The following is the transcribed personal diary of Reuben Jackson, a regular of the 1st battalion Black Watch, who went to France with the very first of his regiment. This first year of his diary was published in his local newspaper, "The Belper News" in Derbyshire, England, in serialised form, in mid to late 1915.
This detailed and unique diary, provides insight into the events as experienced by him between mobilisation in August, 1914, and late June, 1915. There being a deficiency in official records for certain months of 1914, in both the battalion and brigade war diaries, Jackson's personal narrative helps to fill that. Place names have been kept as recorded by Jackson.
BELPER NEWS - 6th August 1915
A YEAR OF WAR
BELPER SOLDIER'S UNIQUE RECORD
DAY BY DAY DIARY OF WONDERFUL STORIES
There is visiting Belper this week a soldier who has perhaps seen as much of actual life at the front as any man in the British Army, in the person of Lance-Corporal Reuben Jackson, who has been spending a week's leave with his mother-in-law, Mrs Mee, of Queen Street, Belper.
He was in the 1st Black Watch, stationed at Aldershot, when war was declared, and he went to France with the original British Expeditionary Force, of which so few men remain. He has been almost continually in the firing line for twelve months without receiving a scratch, and during that time he has systematically and regularly kept a diary, which in his own words, "is only too true." Lance-Corpl. Jackson has been good enough to place at the service of the "Belper News" this valuble narrative, which is practically a complete history of the War by one who has gone through all of it. Lance-Corporal Jackson will be in France or Belgium again at the end of this week.
Left Farnboro' station, near Aldershot, and arrived at Southampton, where we embarked on the Italian Prince about 1,100 strong. We left Southampton about 6pm under sealed orders, which the Captain of the ship was not allowed to open until we were 20 miles from land. We made the best of things, although we were crowded. It turned very cold at night and we took what shelter we could on the left side of the ship to try and sleep.
At about 8am we encountered an armed friendly pilot boat, the Le Havre. We took a pilot on board and proceeded to Havre, at which we arrived about 11am. Entering this dock we were heartily cheered by the French. A party of workmen on the quayside sang "God Save the King" in good English, then the Marseillaise and Rule Britannia. We eventually moored the vessel alongside a large warehouse, which we occupied, while unloading the ship. Some kind French people had organised a coffee stall in the warehouse and gave every man a cup of the beverage. We then marched through the Navy docks and the City, when we were again cheered as we stepped along to the pipes to our encampment on the heights which overlooked the city.
It rained all day and it was necessary to keep under canvas. I sent a young boy to the town for a few luxuries. After parleyvous and tea we had to pack up ready to move.
At one o'clock am we marched from encampment to the station, where we entrained on a troop train in carriages, generally made to hold 50 men and eight horses. Although we were pretty well crushed we had to make the best of a bad job and soon settled down for a long journey. At all the towns we were cheered and men and women clamoured for souvenirs, and of course we gave them numerals, cap badges, etc, and they in return gave us fruit, tobacco, cigarettes, We pulled up at Rouen, where we were given coffee and made a dinner out of it. We, however, proceeded on our journey seeing the same welcome at every village or town we passed through. We were in the train all night.
We arrived at La Nouvain. After disembarking we billeted in an open field till morning. After a wash and breakfast we marched to Boue, where we billeted for about a week. Here we had route marches every day and kept fit. Nothing of importance occurred during the week of hard training.
At last we got the order to move, and we left Boue at 10am and marched for Cartignes, where we received our first pay of five francs. We billeted here for the night.
We got on the move early. It was a hot day as usual. We passed through Dompierre and the big town and fort of Maubeurge. Here we saw officers of our Flying Corps. We passed through the fort, which looked exceedingly strong, after being accorded the usual welcome. We all began to feel tired and wondered where we were going to halt for a few hours. But no, on, on we went, officers cheering us with the words "Only a couple of miles to go now, boys," never seeming to heed their own fatigue. It began to get dark, and the men began to wonder how long the "couple of miles" were, but still we plodded on. At every ten minutes halt, which we got every hour, the men would simply flop down and fall asleep. However, we would be up again and away, wondering if we were ever going to halt for the night. At last about midnight we arrived in Grand Reng in Belgium. As we stood by the roadside waiting to be put in our billets most of the men fell asleep, leaning on their rifles. The inhabitants crowded around us, showering cigarettes, tobacco and every conceivable comfort they could think of on us. Beer was also given to us, and the men drank well but wisely. We were reluctantly taken away by seniors to our billets when we thought we were going to have a good sleep for the night. We were doomed to disappointment.
At 2pm precisely we marched out of the village to dig trenches to stop the Germans' advance. We dug trenches parallel to a road leading from Marbleau Chateau on our right and Mons on our left. Marbleau Chateau was in flames during the early hours of the morning, so we lay on the outskirts of our trenches waiting for the Boches. Along the road in front of us came the inhabitants of the burning village, carrying their belongings in anything that had wheels. It was a pitiful sight, women with babes in arms, and children clinging to their mother's skirt. Some poor farmers drove cows along. Such picture will ever cling to my memory. The villagers became thicker and thicker and we wondered when the Germans were coming. At last we heard the whistling of a shell high in the air at what appeared to be an aeroplane. We could not distinguish to whom it belonged. At last came the Germans, driving the woman and children in front of them. We were in an awful fix. We saw we could not fire for fear of hurting the women and children, so we reluctantly retired without getting a chance to give them a taste of 15 Rounds Rapid. Thus began the famous retreat from Mons. We retired through Grand Reng, warning the villagers, and we afterwards heard that about an hour after we evacuated the village it was being shelled mercilessly by the Germans. We left the main road and retired across country to try and draw the enemy away from the villages. In a corn field about five miles from Grand Reng our cookers awaited us. We settled down in the shade of the hay racks to dinner and breakfast combined, Here we saw our wounded brought in on transport, wagonette, etc. A lucky Hussar who attached himself to us for the time being told us of a marvellous escape he had. It appeared a squadron of his were caught in ambush, and when they saw their plight, charged the Germans, who completely surrounded them, but they broke through, and himself and a sergeant were the only two who escaped. His ammunition in his bandolier had been twisted by a bullet, and a stud on one of the pouches saved his life. His horse was shot through the neck in two places. He was nicknamed by us "Jammy," equivalent to lucky. We were not long before we got on the move again. We slept in the open all night.
Our artillery came into action early in the morning, fighting a rearguard, but still retiring. We passed strong batteries of artillery, which were very busy with the enemy. We halted in a field for dinner. We rested a while and again moved off at 5pm. We slept in a field after a very hard day's marching.
We marched all day, but had to sleep fully equipped in case of sudden attack. We passed through St. Quentin during the afternoon.
We entrenched but eventually moved off as convoy, and witnessed an aeroplane of ours dodging the German shells. We kept on and billeted in a barn.
We were on the move early again and rested in a field for dinner. The Quarter-Master called for butchers to kill cattle for us, which we got served in a terrible downpour of rain. We had scarcely got our dinner than we had orders to move at once as the outposts reported "the enemy in large numbers." We passed through the village of Jerusalem. Numbers were left to form rearguard here, and we dug trenches facing the canal and also commanding the road. We separated the corn in front of us and waited. My section commanded the road, and when our troops passed through us, a Taube appeared and we fired at it, but without result. We had not to wait long before we saw the Germans advancing straight across our front towards Jerusalem from a wood on our right. Two artillery guns opened fire at close range and the Germans ran back. After this we never knew the fate of the two guns. Out of the whole regiment of Munsters only about 120 of them escaped. They were caught digging, rushed for their rifles, and gave a good account of themselves. Their Commander shouted "No Surrender." However, we had the range of all prominent objects and particularly a rise in the road which my section watched. The fighting quietened down a bit, and we knew there was something wrong. Villages all around us were on fire. We were watching the road when two Uhlans suddenly appeared. An old soldier shouted "Don't fire, they are French." However, they calmly surveyed the surroundings and we fired a volley at them. One turned and fled; the other must have been hit, as when we got the order to retire we saw his horse still standing by the roadside. We retired, section at a time, on the road, and kept up a fire on the advancing Uhlans, who were being reinforced, and they eventually gave up the chase, our fire being too hot for them. We were forming up and marching along the road when a terrible fire opened on our left on the other side of the canal. We were taken by surprise, thinking the battle over. We immediately lined the ditch on the left of the road and range given we opened fire on a wood a distance of 700 yards, at the same time moving as quickly as possible along the ditch towards the next village and bent double all the time while our gallant Colonel stood straight up directing the fire while the German shells and bullets were whistling round us. Our machine guns got busy and a couple of guns of the 117th Battery R.F.A., came to our aid, and by the time we arrived at the next village, which name I was too busy to note, the firing had ceased. We formed up again beyond the village. For this encounter we had only one man wounded, and two stretcher-bearers missing. The Adjutants horse had to be shot on account of wounds. We marched another two miles and billeted in an orchard, where our cooks, etc., had enormous fires.
We were wakened early and had breakfast and moved off at 4am. We marched all day till 7pm. I wondered if this campaign was going to be all marching. My shoulders ached considerably with the weight of the pack. It is strange how, when passing along the road, we see so many men of other regiments fall out and none or at least very few of the 42nd. Although I had a terribly skinned heel I found it necessary to discard the lace and wear a loose shoe. Some chaps of other regiments were in a more pitiable state, some walking with no boots on, some in canvas slippers; in fact anything so long as they could peg along somehow and not fall in the rear and be captured. A very funny thing happened today. A chap of ours who complained that his feet troubled him, took off his boots during one of the rests on the roadside, after marching four miles, and found that a bullet had penetrated the fleshy part of his leg and was lodged in his other boot. We kept on and arrived at S. Gobairn, passing through La Fere. The day had been terrific, as cloudy as we were. Men began to drop out and I was wishing we could either camp where we were or drop into one of the ditches or cool my feet with any kind of water. On nearing the camp, one man of my Company fainted and he was attended by the doctor. We eventually reached camp thoroughly exhausted. We made bivouacs, of our waterproof sheets and were told that the next day was to be a rest day and all washing and bathing was to be done that day.
Reveille sounded at 7am and after breakfast we started our ablutions. Owing to so many having had bad feet I gave a hand with the sick corporal, Old Punch Wilson as he was known in the Regiment. Well, we rested in the afternoon, and after the B Co. were warned as escort to a convoy, we moved off at 9pm, leaving the other three Companies in camp. We marched all night through woods in total darkness and I thought at the time how easily it would have been for us to fall into an ambush. We heard that the 12th Lancers and Scots Guards surprised a patrol of German cavalry and annihilated them.
At about 3am we halted near a Monastery, and after posting pickets were told to snatch a few hours' sleep on the roadside, before we marched off again. We started off at 6am and not being sure whether any of the enemy were in the vicinity we sent a section forward as advance guard to the Company. At about 10am we had breakfast from our cooker on the roadside near a railway bridge guarded by French soldiers, who came to see how we fared. Having no bread, a soldier of the French Guard motioned to their hostess with whom they were billeted and she brought us "Du Pain" and distributed it to us. We thanked her with about all the French we knew. A cyclist approached us, a young French peasant, but always being on the qui vive for spies, our Captain (Drummond) ordered him off his "bike" and questioned him. He at first refused to answer, thinking it no business of ours, but he was prevailed upon to answer. On seeing the muzzle of a revolver staring him in the face, he answered all right, and after the Captain had apologised let the cyclist proceed. We kept on and billeted in an empty hay loft which had no side to it. My section was told off for road blocking, and we put a farmer's big reaping machine across the way, and dug one man trenches, lined them with straw and mounted guard, after putting trip wires in front. A lot of French cavalry went on well ahead of us to reconnoitre. It rained all night and my feet were soaking, so took off my shoes and socks but had none to change, and had to put the same on the next morning. I did not get any sleep as my feet were like ice all night. By this time my shoes were letting in water and were quite worn out. Every time I trod on a stone it made me jump.
Got on the move early and at about 4pm we passed through Soissons. Here we first saw the French motor ambulances with their wounded. We halted a while in one of the main streets and bought butter and chocolate etc. From the upper windows of the shops the women threw tomatoes and fruit to us. We passed through the town and about two miles beyond we rested for a night in the open fields and had dinner and tea together, before getting down to it.
(to be continued next week)
BELPER NEWS - 13h August 1915
A YEAR OF WAR
LANCE-CORPORAL JACKSON'S DAY BY DAY STORY OF THE WAR
We have pleasure in giving our readers another graphic description of the early days of the war culled from the diary of Lance-Corporal Jackson, of the 1st Black Watch. He continues his narrative as follows:-
We got another early move on and a false alarm caused a little anxiety after cutting the telegraph wires and lining a railway. The French fired on our Scots Greys, thinking they were Germans. The whole affair was cleared up and we proceeded on our way with easier consciences. We came to a wood – or forest, I should call it as it is the largest I have ever traversed (the Foret de Compiegnel) We fixed bayonets on entering and I thought we were never going to get to the end. This forest very nearly proved a death-trap for the 1st Brigade. We rested a while in a little open space and saw our artillery coming at the gallop down a side lane. We at first took them for Uhlan, and we stood up to meet them, but our captain told us not to fire until he had looked through his glasses, and then he said: "It's all right boys, they are our troops." We got on the move again, and we really thought there was no end to the wood, until at about 2pm we emerged into the outer world. We never knew at the time how near we were to being cut off. We passed through a little village, and into a field for dinner, which consisted of cold "bully" and tea. We had no sooner got dinner issued than our Colonel (Grand Duff) galloped into the field and shouted to us to get packed up again and dressed. We moved back to the village we had just passed through, drinking our tea as best we could. We formed. We formed a rearguard on the outskirts of the village, nearest the wood. We heard firing and presently a couple of Irish Guards came along. One had a narrow escape; the heel of his boot had been blown away. The other was slightly wounded in the back. They told us that the 4th Brigade was taken by surprise, but gave a good account of themselves. The Irish Guards met the incoming masses of Germans, who were shouting and singing (and some were drunk) and poured a deadly fire into their ranks. But the places of those who had fallen were soon filled, only for more gaps to be made and again filled up. Then the machine guns of the Germans opened fire and the Guards had to retire, fighting all the road. Our company was the last to leave the village and we thought we were going to have a repetition of the Munster's fight, and get cut off as they did on August 27th. We retired, however, from the village and came to another wood. We were by this time beginning to feel the weight of our packs. We had continually complained that they impeded our movements. On entering the wood we found our artillery in position waiting for the Germans to come out of the village, and while we halted our packs were taken from us and placed in a big cart drawn by four horses. How light we felt, and fit for anything! We watched our artillery pepper the Germans at short range as soon as they emerged from the village, and time after time they were driven back. Our machine guns were placed ready for any outflanking movement, and after our artillery had ceased fire and got away with their guns we slowly retired, putting out flank guards and connecting files. We marched all that night.
At about 9am we reached the village of Meaux where we rested all afternoon and marched off at 5pm.
Marched to Calummiers, where we rested in the Market Place in a boiling sun, and were allowed to go in parties under our N.C.O. To buy any luxuries we might fancy. After dinner we marched to canal just outside the town and had a good swim and wash, having platoons in case of a sudden surprise. We witnesses train loads of French troops going to some position. After tea, which we had on the canal bank, we moved off to take up a position near a bridge. Some French Cuirassiers with their breastplates on, passed us on their way back to Calummiers. We came to a bridge which we were to defend. A tree was felled and blocked the road, and a Maxim gun placed in position commanding the bridge. We dug trenches and manned them, placing a picket at the bridge and then watched. "A" Company guarded another road leading into town.
In the early hours of the morning we heard the sound of horses' hoofs on the hard road, and one of the picket was sent in to report. He told us that patrols of Uhlans were passing at a cross-roads on the opposite side of the bridge, and along a road parallel to our trenches. He also reported that what he thought were refugees (but which turned out to be Uhlans in women's clothes) were approaching the bridge along a ditch at the side of the road, and on being fired on by the picket they mounted their horses and fled. The picket then retired to our trenches, and we poured a heavy fire through the trees at these cross-roads, which we faintly distinguished in the haze beyond the bridge. Not all those bullets could have missed, for we heard some unintelligible curses and a scuffling of horses and men as they galloped away and all was quiet again. That morning we got our breakfast before we moved off. We again passed through the town and heard that 'A' had captured a German patrol, including a Baron who said he had broken through the French lines many a time and got back in safety, but this was the first time he had tried the British. Lord George Murray, who was in command of the "A" Company, conversed with him a little while, and they were then sent under an escort to the British Headquarters. We proceeded and came into action before we knew where we were. Near a village called Nesles our artillery took up position and blazed away in support of the Coldstreams, who had really advanced too far, and the began to "cop" it. After having extra ammunition served out to us we extended and advanced in the open in support of the Coldstreams. On the right of the road very few shells did any damage, but we some cyclists knocked clean off their bikes with a shell. The 42nd slowly retired as the Coldstreams retired too, to take up a better position at our back. We left on company defending a from on our right, but the Germans did not advance. Behind little village on our left front the German artillery were in position. My company were taken n the left of the road immediately in front of the village and between both batteries. We dug trenches in the open. At the corner of an enclosed garden, a Coldstream Guardsman lay dead, his head pierced by a piece of shrapnel just behind the ear. He was an old soldier with four good-conduct badges on his left arm, and we were told by some of his comrades that he had left a wife and five or six little ones. Well, while we were digging trenches both artilleries opened fire, and soon a merry duel took place. We could see the effect of the German shells as our artillery were in the open and had no cover. No doubt the Germans were fighting a rearguard action at this time, as no bullets came our way, and when the Germans Quietened down a bit we advanced in artillery formation, and strange to say never encountered a single German, although there were a lot of the Coldstreams laying about. Soon the stretcher-bearers got busy. As we went along we passed sets of equipment, rifles, etc., of our troops where they had fallen, and had probably crawled away to safety. We again extended on nearing a part of the country which was thickly clustered with barns and orchards, and searchd every barn and hayloft. Towards dusk we surrounded a house which had been occuppied by a spy, and on being questioned by our captain he was taken prisoner. He wailed and cried all the time he was with us, and he was eventually taken to headquarters to be searched and examined. During these last few days when marching on the main road we noticed that we had been getting nearer Paris, and now we were getting further away from it. Today's encounter had been the first since the advance on the Marne. That night we slept in the open but were not allowed to take straw until requisitions had been made for it.
We moved of at 10am. Crossing the open country we passed through farms that had been occupied by Germans and strewn all over the place were wine-bottles, cups and teapots, and parts of dead cattle that had been slaughtered for the men. On the lawns of some of the houses, tables had been set and abandoned in haste by their officers. The occupants of farms were questioned, who in nearly every case were old men and women, and we were put on the right track. However, we still kept on searching every farm. We got on the road, my company, "B," acting as advance guard to the battalion, and battalion to the Brigade. On the left side of the road we came across an abandoned German motor transport wagon, which had apparently broken down, but everything of importance had been taken out of it, and we got the remnants. We stopped and searched the wagon for clues, et., which belonged to some Jaeger regiment. However, we did not stay long, and got on the move again. We also passed motor cycles; one looked as if it had caught fire, and the other was in good condition. Both were lying in the ditch by the roadside. In the fields were ashes of fires of the Germans' encampment, and feathers and dead fowls too were to be seen everywhere. We must have had troops in front of us which I believe, were the French. We halted and had dinner, and started immediately afterwards. We were told that lots of French troops were advancing on our left and right, forming a triangle, or at least two sides of which the first and second brigades were the pivot or point. We had heard that early in the morning the ____, who were in advance of us, were resting, and as it was slightly misty and raining they had covered themselves with their waterproof sheets. Well, our artillery, which had suddenly come into action behind the crest, mistook them as they were rising to advance for Germans, whom they thought they had surprised, and poured a deadly shell fire into them, killing their Colonel and losing an awful lot of men. The wounded that passed us told us this as they were being helped along to hospital by their comrades. We noticed this afterwards; that a waterproof sheet from a distance looks the same colour as the German uniform. That night we had a good rest in a field with a good wood on either side giving us good concealment. We put out strong pickets before going to sleep.
BELPER NEWS - 20th August 1915
LANCE-CORPORAL JACKSON'S DIARY
Astounding Adventures – Wonderful Escapes
Below we give the third installment of Lance Corporal Jackson's interesting diary of the war, which takes us to September 21st last year. We would draw attention to the many almost miraculous escapes from death of Corpl. Jackson during this period, especially on one occasion when he fell 50 feet into a quarry.
Eary breakfast and early move was the order of the day. We formed up on the main road, and "B" Company were again told off as advance guard. We "groused" a little, as we know it was a bit thick doing advance guard two days running. However, it had to be done, so we had our "grouse" and did it, and little did we know what we were going to knock up against that day. On the road we passed French Cuirassiers, who were acting as scouts. We also witnessed a wounded French officer being attended to on the roadside, but refusing to be carried by a stretcher-bearer. Further on we passed the bodies of French Artillerymen with their faces covered to denote that they were dead. Some we saw with their horses only a few yards away. Still further on we came across a gun team (four horses) lying together with their harness on. They were in a terrible mess, as they had been struck by a shell. We were now moving up a valley, and expected to be in the thick of it any minute. We saw in front of us a village which was occupied by French Cavalry, with whom we stayed for a minute or two, until the remainder of the regiment came up. While we were trying to make them understand us, the German artillery opened fire on the heights above, and ours replied from the heights on our side of the valley. What a noise it made as the sound travelled up the valley! It sounded like Bedlam. We thought at first we were going to catch it, but as we heard the shells high above us, we knew it was going to be an artillery duel. Our turn was coming sooner than we expected. The other three companies joined us, and we marched through the village across a bridge. Here we witnessed more Frenchmen being brought in wounded, some being in a terrible state. Our company was told to clear a wood, and we moved along to the left. At the foot of the hill we advanced by platoons, at the right of the road, and under cover of a high bank which was thickly wooded. We heard the crack of the German rifles, of which we were soon to have a taste. We kept on cautiously, and presently we secured two German horses, which we sent to the rear. Coming to a gateway with a slight rise in the field beyond, we passed through in single file, and lined the ridge in front. One section who had advanced too far were almost annihilated. They went over the ridge, and Sergt. Spence was wounded. They ran back, and I saw Spence fall again. As he lay with one knee in the air I could see the Germans were firing at it. We could not make out at first where the firing was coming from, and lay there while one and then another would try to crawl back wounded. I saw Capt. Drummond was also wounded just here. Lieut. Wilson, also of my company, was killed. We lay here without a leader of any description until some Camerons and our own Colonel came up and asked us what was the matter. When we told him he said: "Well, men, we cannot lie here, we must charge that wood." He asked if the Camerons would join in, and a Lieut. Answered, "Yes, sir. I am under your command." "Well," said our Colonel, "fix your bayonets." This we did lying down, and when we were all ready he gave the command to charge, and down the hill we went. Strange to say, they never fired a shot at us during that charge, but one of them came out of the wood, with a white handkerchief in his right hand, which he waved as a sign of their surrender. Someone shouted "No quarter," and he got none. He stooped to get back through his hole in the hedge, but was riddled with bullets and fell. We never stopped until we got within ten yards of the wood, when we lay down and poured a rapid fire into the bottom of the hedge. As some of them tried to escape through the back of the wood we brought them down too. We advanced through this little wood, and what a sight met our eyes! It looked like a slaughter-house. Out of the back of the wood we went, coming across bunches of them pretending to be dead, and surrendering as we turned them over. Our C.O. Told us not to heed them, but to advance through the orchards as our work was not yet finished. We searched the burns, etc., and some of the Germans came walking down the lanes and side-walks with their hands up. We collected and counted them – 23 in all: not a bad capture for us. We guarded them on the main road and gave them bully beef and biscuits in exchange for "souvenirs." I got a very large watch from a young chap. One fellow, who could speak good English, asked me what we were going to do with them (the prisoners), and one of our chaps jocularly said "Bayonet you." The German answered "Why should you bayonet us?" I assured him it was meant only as a joke, whereupon he turned to his comrades (after I had told him that they would be sent to England and well looked after) and he told them in their language what I had said. It was a picture to see the change in their faces. They gave me all sorts of souvenirs, exchanging an English shilling for a German mark, and one of them gave me a clean handkerchief when he saw the colour of my own. Well, we marched with our captives by ??? stages (on account of the two wounded German prisoners) to join our battalion, which had formed up in a field, who also had taken prisoners. The regiment cheered our company as we came in, and the prisoners were all put together in a square and guarded by our sentries. We got our tea after making ourselves comfortable, and it began to rain. After the prisoners had been seen to in the way of food, etc., they were marched to headquarters and we settled down for the night That was our first encounter with the Potsdam Guards. I need not dwell on the scenes that occurred as we marched through the village of Hondevillers with the prisoners. Suffice to say it took us all our time to keep the women and men from molesting our captives.
We arose early again and after breakfast moved off to our right: towards the River Aisne.
We had slight encounters with rear guards, but nothing of any consequence occurred, and we passed through Landrecies.
After being on outposts all night we again moved to our right, passing through Vendresse, and saw our troops on the heights on the left signalling. We were ordered to advance towards Moulens, which we did in artillery formation. We cleared a wood, and when in the open, we came under shell-fire. Moulens lay on the top of the hill in front of us, and we made for it, so as to be under cover. We continued up a pathway in single file, and the Germans shelled us with terrible accuracy. They made their shells burst at the top of the slope, at the foot of which our pathway lay. How none of us were hit God only knows. On entering the village, at the top of the path we came across a company of Zouaves, who had been sheltering under a wall until the shelling had ceased, and towards dusk went up another steep pass on to the crest of the hill and dug "one man" trenches, I and another six men going out in front as advance post and outlying picket. Hundreds of fires lit up the darkness.
We guessed there was something going to be done before long, judging by the Germans' fires. They appeared to be very strong, which we found to be correct later. Early this morning it was rather misty, and a serious accident might have occurred if i had not warned the men in time. My platoon (No.5) had just got their breakfast behind a hay stack to which we came at one time. My platoon Sergt. (Baldwin) was having his breakfast and I noticed in the mist someone in the front of us. I made them out to be Zouaves who were crossing our front: the sergeant noticed them, but could not make out who they were, and ordered us to open fire: I shouted "No, don't fire for God's sake. They are Zouaves." and no one seeming to know who they were we hung fire. They lay for a while, and along a hedge, and the mist cleared a bit, so they could be more plainly recognised. What a good job we did not fire, as we could ill afford to lose such good men. From this position we retired as soon as we had our breakfast to a more suitable place than under cover of the haystack. We went down the steep pass which we had ascended the previous day, and again came under fire, but nothing to speak of. We sheltered in a village for a while, and that night we again did outpost duty.
This day was to be another never-to-be-forgotten one for us. After getting breakfast and getting all our transports with the exception of ammunition wagons out of the way, we advanced to see what the German position was like, the first brigade consisting of the Scots and Coldstream Guards, Cameron Highlanders and Black Watch were to bear the brunt. We climbed a quarry which was to prove a very long stay for us afterwards. Climbing on to the open we immediately took up artillery formation, and after waiting awhile, advanced. The spare bullets came over in hundreds, and one of my platoon dropped with a groan, hit in the stomach. He was assisted to cover. My platoon lined a ridge in front, and our commanding officer (Grant Duff) casually walked up to us and asked us what we were doing in spite of the danger of shell and bullets. He then told us to stay there to the last man, if necessary, in support of a few of our artillery guns that had taken up hostile position on our right rear. We obeyed. But the guns had to be got away by new horses as the original gun teams were wiped out by shell fire. After this we had to advance by short runs across a very muddy ploughed field, which was like running with drivers' boots on. We got into an awful state, but we had the bullets to think of. We got to a wood in which were the Camerons and Scots Guards, and here we lay for six solid hours, without being able to make any headway and under a continuous shower of shrapnel, Maxim and rifle fire. All we could do was to shove earth in front of us for head cover and lie low. As we lay we watched our troops on the right advance, but they had to retire. It was pitiful to see the wounded, crawling on hands and knees all over the place, and a sugar factory on our right was getting "coal-boxed." Now and again, a shell would burst near wounded men, and it was painful to see some of them rise and make an agonising attempt to get away, only to fall again through weakness. As i lay there waiting for my turn during that eternal six hours, I wondered if ever we should get out of it alive. Presently some fool shouted to us that the Germans were coming round to outflank us on our right, and that the Camerons and Scots Guards were retiring. A stream of mixed regiments came round the right of the wood, bringing wounded with them. We seemed to be entirely on our own and did not know what to do. So being left we had to retire too, and that was where we "got it" again. Most of the brigade made for one particular mound and haystacks, when Maxims, shrapnel and rifles were turned on them, and down they went right and left. I foresaw the error of retiring en masse, and ran out into the open along with Drummer Monaghan, who afterwards was wounded. As we ran the Germans kept putting their shells behind us, and how it happened I was not hit God knows. I staggered on, nearing the edge of the quarry, and being past exhaustion, I slipped at the very edge. Before I could regain my balance down I went through about 50 feet of space, and luckily landed on sandy soil, giving my ankle a severe wrench. I limped down the slope a bit, and was taking a breather when Piper Thom, who was at Magersfontein, appeared, who declared that was quite a picnic compared to this. He was wounded in the back and slightly in the knee. I bandaged him and helped him to our stretcher bearers, and then left him. On returning I was told by Major Murray to stay at a certain point at the Cross Roads near Vendresse and collect any men that had lost touch with their regiments, and help wounded, etc. While here I saw our much loved Colonel A.G. Duff, brought down on a stretcher dead. From that time Major Murray assumed command, I joined my company after a very painful climb owing to my ankle, but luckily we did not do any more advancing or retiring, but dug ourselves in on the edge of the quarry, which position we held for a month. For a week it rained, and no matter how we tried to keep comfortable the elements went against us, and the quarry became a veritable quagmire. Day after day many wounded men crawled in, and some had awful tales to tell. On the 17th three of the S.W. Borderers with their faces covered with dry blood told us how when wounded the Germans had battered their heads with the butts of their rifles and left them for dead. They had been out between the two lines of trenches for three days, and had had nothing to eat, se we soon got some hot tea made, and gave them biscuits and tobacco, after which they went to hospital. Another horrible sight I cannot forget happened as follows: About 300 yards in front of us was a haystack, the one to which our first casualty had been taken on the 14th, and leaning up against it facing us were the the wounded who had managed to crawl there for shelter, some of whom had managed to take off their jackets and bandage themselves, and had been there since the first day. They died where they were through exposure, some being in sitting positions. We could not bring them in as we were always fired on. One day a German shell struck the haystack and set fire to it. The bodies were burned, and we could hear the ammunition going off as their equipment caught fire. I was sent out with a patrol one night, and had to lie till daybreak in the rain and cold. I was glad to get back and get my rum too. On the 14th we lost some good officers including Colonel Duff, Lieut Cummings, Lieut. Polson; Capt. Green, who was wounded in the forehead and never left his company, and refused to be kepy in hospital. If ever a man deserved the V.C. He did, for not only did he scorn to have his wound dressed at the proper time, but insisted that the whole regiment dug themselves in and got a firm footing before he was properly attended to.
We were relieved by the Notts. and Derbys, and on our way for a rest were shelled, which fact testified to spies being busy. In fact the place was infested with them. One of them, was caught and led between two horsemen. He was dressed in French trousers and tunic and also wore a British greatcoat and cap. Another one was caught red handed in a dug-out on the side of a hill with telephone apparatus. He was shot and the telephone dismantled. On our way to billets at Ouilly we were told that a reward was offered by Lord James Murray of £5 to any man recovering some trinkets (or family heirlooms I should think) belonging to his brother, Lord George Murray, of the 42nd, who was either wounded of captured on 14th September. Lord James Murray belonged to the Camerons. We arrived at Ouilly, and here we thought we were going to have a good rest, but we were doomed to disappointment.
(To be Continued)
BELPER NEWS - 27th August 1915
A Year of War
The Diary of Corpl. Jackson
Daily Record of Extraordinary Adventures
Lost Between the Lines
The fourth instalment of the daily diary of war compiled by Lance-Corpl. Jackson, 1st Black Watch, which we give below, surpasses in an almost incredible degree the extraordinary chain of adventures he has already narrated. We would direct the attention of our readers to the many lucky escapes and exciting incidents which Corpl. Jackson experienced whilst separated from his company.
The document continues as follows:-
We got an order to move and went to the left of our original position to relieve the H.L.I. It was rather an awkward position, being situated on the top of a hill. The approach to the trenches was very rocky, and dug-outs were made in the rocky substance on the left side of the pathway, which had been made a mess by the "Jack Johnsons." A large cave served as battalion headquarters, and we moved to the top, and relieved the H.L.I. The trenches were very shallow, and, difficult as the earth and rock were to dig, we managed to make them slightly deeper.
After having breakfast very early, in fact before daybreak, we settled down in our new trenches, and judge for yourselves if they were not more dangerous than our last. Well, the usual shelling started, but we paid no attention except to the "Jack Johnsons." which appeared to me to be landing unpleasantly close to our headquarters in the cave. Today I saw a German observation balloon, and at first sight I took it for a Zeppelin, but on looking through strong glasses I saw it was stationary. It had the appearance of a big sausage shaped balloon, which floated almost perpendicularly in the air, with a smaller one near the lower end, and still lower a basket shaped object, which, I suppose, must have been the observer's seat. Nothing of any consequence happened during our three days stay in these trenches, and on the 25th we were relieved by the Camerons. The day following we heard that a "Jack Johnson" had landed on the cave, which we had used as our headquarters, and buried about 30. We went to a farm in the shelter of an overhanging hill and wood, but had to move out at certain times in case of shelling, to the shelter of rocks which overhung our billets. While sheltering one day we saw our transport with rations, etc., coming along a road beneath us, and being shelled with deadly accuracy, which again was the work of spies. When they arrived the horses were pouring in sweat.
We returned from billets to our original trenches on the Aisne, the ones we had previously held for a week. It seemed like a new place to us, as everything had been altered. Dug-outs were made and trees cut down and everything was built of stone taken from the quarry. Even the roofs of the dug -outs seemed to be "coal-box" proof so strong did they look. There were three lines of barbed wire in front of the trenches, and "A" Company's trench had walls of stone to prevent enfilading. We had livelier times during our second stay in these trenches, which lasted for a fortnight. Our observation post, which was situated about 300 yards in front of our trenches, with a communicating trench leading to it, was a very dangerous post, being subjected every day to "Jack Johnsons." Curious to say, while a patrol of our regiment held it day after day, no casualties occurred, but when the South Wales Borderers relieved us one day to enable us to get a bath at Vendresse, we heard on returning that they had a patrol almost wiped out; one killed and three wounded by "coal-boxes." We wondered how it was after this that the German artillery got terribly accurate at putting shells just above our cave at headquarters, until two more spies were eventually captured. We began to get very "fly" for these chaps, but our overzealousness nearly made us look fools on one occasion. One night when talking with my section just after the word "night duties" had been passed, an officer who said he was Major Thorpe of the A.S.C., came right up to our front trench, and started asking such questions as "Do you get many shells here?" "How far and where is your observation post" and "Is it the front line trenches you are in, and do you get attacked often?" We at first seemed very communicative, as he told us he as very interested in trench warfare, and did not get the chance of experiencing it like us, as he was in the A.S.C. He asked us to feel at home with him and on leaving us he avoided our headquarters, and went through the trees into the darkness. Someone suggested the word "spy" and I sent two men after him at the double On the three returning, the officer smilingly said, "Yes, Corporal, what's the matter!" I soon got over what i thought was his cheek, and said, "Do you mind seeing an officer, sir?" He answered, "Yes, certainly, corporal." I took him to Lieut. McNaughton, and they seemed very friendly and enjoyed the joke. They parted, and Lieut. McNaughton said to me "It's alright, corporal, he is beyond suspicion." However, I was not satisfied, but had to be content to see the suspect disappear in the same direction as the previous time. Well, after that every day we got shelled in the very spot where he had talked with us, and i would have it that he was a spy. Should he put in an appearance again more drastic measures would be taken, as i should send him to the battalion headquarters. However, he never came again, and this strengthened my suspicion considerably. In time, when we were relieved by the French on the 16th of October, we came to a bridge which had been re-built by the British and French Engineers after having been destroyed by the Germans during the advance on the Aisne. Who should I see standing there bu Major Thorpe, who recognised me, and said "Good-bye, Corporal," and as I answered "Good-by, sir." I nearly dropped with surprise.
As I have already said, we were relieved by the French at three o'clock in the morning, and this day was marked by the Germans shelling them (the French) with high explosives. More spies' work! We could hear the German artillery observer directing the fire in spite of the mist which prevailed, and the French lost a few men, I believe. Another sad incident marked the last night on the Aisne for us. A corporal and patrol of my company ["B"] were sent out, and a patrol of "C" Company was also sent out. In the fog both patrols challenged, one firing on the other. "B" company's patrol ran in, and on nearing our trenches were so breathless that they failed to answer this challenge from the trenches. Whereupon, having been challenged twice and failing to answer, a volley was fired, and one man was killed and another wounded before the mistake was discovered. Another patrol under Lieut. Kirk was sent out, and things cleared up a bit early in the morning, when this patrol killed three Germans at our barbed wire. Well, after being relieved by the French we marched to Blancy, and were billeted there that day.
We marched to Bossinghe, passing through Vlamertinghe and Elverdinghe. We met stern opposition at Pilken Farm, but advanced in the direction of Langemarke. At the cross-roads here, we turned to the left, and firing could be heard near the Foret D'Houthulst, and also to our left rear in the direction of Bixchoote. However, we billeted in the scattered farms at Langemarck, and during the day our armoured train fairly kept the Germans busy. My word, the first time the armoured train opened fire it did give us a fright. It would steam well ahead, almost amongst the enemy, and pepper them, and steam back again. We could See the German shells bursting where the train had been. We were not troubled that night.
This day I took orderly sergeant in place of a corporal who reverted to the ranks at his own request. I have forgotten to mention that I had been promoted to Corporal on the Aisne. We held orderly room, and directly it finished the Germans started to shell us, but did us no harry. We got a sudden order to advance, and i was sent with orders from headquarters to my company officer, Capt. The Hon. H. Ruthven, to advance in extended order, "B" leading. On returning to headquarters, I was running across the open, when a spare bullet took my cap clean off. Some of our chaps who were sheltering against a house, shouted, "Hard lines that time, Jackie." I just smiled, and thanked my lucky stars that it wasn't lower, or I should not have got this day's work written. Well, the 42nd advanced, but orderly sergeants had to stay at headquarters and act as company messengers, and so as to be handy when wanted. Very soon we got the news that Capt. Ruhtven and Lieut. Hay, a magnificent specimen of a soldier, standing 6ft 11 1/2 inches high, had been wounded. Curious to say, Lieut. Hay was hit in the foot. We also had Lieut. Kirk wounded, but I do not know what became of him. In this encounter we also lost Lieut. Bowes Lyons and Capt. Urquhart, leaving Capt. West to take command of the whole line. The Black Watch dug themselves in when near enough to Germans, and held them in spite of repeated attacks to break through. The following morning the orderly sergeants had to rejoin their companies, being no longer required. We had to find our own way, and Corpl. Tanner and myself went together in the direction we thought our companies were. We passed trenches occupied by the Coldstreams, and also sets of equipment, which the wounded had discarded. We followed these, which served as a sort of trail. We passed a dead corporal, who was a "time server." He had been shot through the head, and was almost unrecognisable. As bullets began to ping all around us, we thought it better to take cover. We came to a big farm, and cautiously approached it with rifles ready, not being sure whether we had passed the company or not, I led into the farm, and what a sight met my eyes! Germans lay thick along the hedge in the position they had fallen, and at the gate was a dead Frenchman. They had awful holes in their body. The fields and orchards were strewn with dead and dying cattle. Well, on entering the farm square-all farms are built in the shape of a square, with hay-loft on one side, cattle shed on the other, living-rooms at one end and sheds for carts and fowl-houses at the other, and refuse heap in the centre, we proceeded cautiously, expecting a bullet every step we went. Suddenly, from a door opposite, a German emerged. I put up my rifle, but he seemed to be wounded as he could only lift one hand up, so i went up to him and asked him if there were any more of his men in the house. I might as well have asked a donkey, as he did not understand one word i said. So i went inside the house and searched the rooms. In one, I found another wounded German who had been shot through the chest. I dressed both their wounds with their own bandages, and gave them water, after they made known their requirements by signs. In another room I found an Inniskilling Fusilier, who implored me to fetch a stretcher, as he had numerous bayonet wounds and could not move. I asked him what had happened, and he told me that as he was lying wounded a lot of Germans who passed him when retiring stabbed him. He had seven or eight wounds, I believe. Well, I told him I would do what I could for him, but I could not go back, as I had orders to join my company as soon as possible. After having a good look around the house, which was loop-holed, and built up with barricades of furniture for defensive purposes, it became clear that the Germans had occupied it. Everything was ransacked. German ammunition, bayonets and soup packets proved that the enemy had been there some time. I then left the farm with Corpl. Tanner, and came across MacIntosh, a scout, who told us the best way to go. We followed his directions, and before leaving him told him to try and get stretchers for the wounded men at the farm we had just left. We crossed a stream by a foot-bridge, and came to a road where more dead Germans marked the way our company had gone. Bullets were flying rather low here, and a few shells came our way as well, but we knew they could not be firing at us as we were well screened from view of their artillery by the trees and orchards. We knew we were getting close so scrambled along a dry ditch until we got to a big tree. Here, a maxim was turned on us, and I thought my last hour had come. We both lay behind this tree in line with the direction of the bullets, and when they stopped we ran to the cover of a big farm occupied by "A" Company of the 42nd, who had built up a barricade in the openings facing the Germans, and were defending them. I asked where my company was, and Lieut. Fortune, who was in charge, commanded me to stay and bandage the wounded. A chap of "A" company asked me if I would like to have a shot at the Germans, and I said "Yes." He took me to a loft where he had bored a hole through the tiles. I looked through, and about 400 yards away were the Germans digging trenches as fast as they could. I waited until I saw three or four of them meet and talk to each other, forming a nice target, and I took steady aim, knowing I should hit one of them. I fired: one staggered and fell, and the others ran. I waited for another chance, but none came. I could see one man moving about, but I hadn't the heart to fire again. Someone shouted for me to do more bandaging, and thus spoiled my sport. I had a very busy time during the afternoon, and in the evening the stretcher-bearers, who had been busy elsewhere, came up, and I joined my company. During the night Capt. West told us to fire only when ordered, and we gave them an occasional volley to let them know we were still there.
(To be continued)
BELPER NEWS - 3rd September 1915
A YEAR OF WAR
THE GERMAN ATTACKS IN OCTOBER
LANCE-CORPL. JACKSON'S DIARY
This week's instalment of Lance-Corpl. Jackson's (1st Black Watch) day-by-day diary of the war contains a realistic and graphic account of the German attack on the British lines on October 29th, in addition to many further exciting adventures. The diary continues:-
We had our rations brought to us in the early morning, and we had to crawl almost out of our one-man trench to get them. Last night we had a sergeant killed. Sergt. Robertson, who was a school teacher before the war, read the burial service over all the men we interred at the rear of our trenches. We got quite used to burials but, of course, we never knew when our turn would come. During the afternoon, Simpson, a Dundee postman, who was on the look-out, was struck by a ricochet and fell over the bank in front, but was soon pulled back by his messing chum, Smith, and bandaged. Towards evening a heavy artillery duel took place, and we had to lie low in our trenches, We heard that the French were going to relieve us that night, and, strange to say, we were attacked three times. This made it almost impossible for the French troops to relieve us that night, as they had to come across open country. They eventually came up early next morning and we managed to get away without further casualties. We heard that 60 of the Camerons were found tied to trees when the Queen's charged, and they liberated them. That happened on October 21st or 22nd.
After being relieved, we moved in the direction of Gheluvelt, and again advanced in extended order, coming under shell fire before we knew where we were. Lieut. McCrae, scout officer, lost an eye, and another, scout Drummond, was killed, being struck in the jugular vein. He lived for just two minutes after that. McIntosh, his chum, was with him at the time, and they had just changed places at the door of a ruined house when Drummond was killed. Lieut. Blair, who acted as company commander instead of Capt. Mowbray, detailed me and three more men to search the houses as we advanced. It is rather an exciting job this, as you never know the time when you are going to get "plugged," but nothing happened, and we found nothing beyond more dead cattle. However, we "made-up" in our company, who had lined a trench, and we came under a hot fire when we left the houses, and ran to the trench, although we could never see anything. After this word came back from headquarters that we had advanced too far, and were told to retire slowly and without confusion to a windmill about 600 or 700 yards behind. When here we began to dig "one-man" trenches again, and I was sent to fetch shovels with a party about two miles back. It began to get dark, and we plodded along, but being unable to get any shovels we came all the way back again. Before we rejoined the company we had rather an exciting experience. My party and I were resting by the side of the road just opposite a house that had been on fire and was just burning out. We were almost asleep, when a shout, "Stop him, stop him, he's a spy," rang out in the stillness, and a figure came running towards us, chased by about a dozen more. The spy was too close at the time for us to really do anything, but one of my party ran across the road and dealt the fugitive a severe blow with his rifle, but he managed to escape into some empty houses. A search was made, but without result. A sergeant who was guarding him at the time was in a fearful state, and very cut up about it. I asked him how it was he managed to escape, and he told me that the spy had pretended he was a cripple, so out of pity they did not tie him hand and foot, but just kept a sentry on guard. When he saw his chance the spy struck the sentry from behind and escaped.
The previous night we dug ourselves in in front of a brickfield, having left the trenches near the Windmill. Lieut. Lawson, our old Q.M.S., was my platoon officer, and a better man never breathed. I and my friend Larkins (we had been together the whole campaign) dug the trench and dug-out for the Lieutenant. By dawn we were all well under cover, in spite of the persistent sniping of the Germans, who were quite near to us, and it was too dangerous even to show one's head for a second. One fellow, who found it necessary to leave the trench, got safely away, but on returning was struck in the muscle by a sniper just as he reached his own trench, an awful lot of his arm being blown away. He fell head foremost, and began shouting for me. I could only jump from one trench to another, as they were "one man" trenches, until I got to him, and luckily it was a little bigger than usual. At any rate I had to lie down alongside him and bandage him in that very awkward position, which was anything but comfortable.
We were subjected to an awful amount of shelling by high explosives, "A" Company suffering terribly. They lost a nearly 100 men, including Capt. Sir Stewart Richardson. "B" Company were more lucky, as not many shells came our way. On the 28th, when going to a place a little further to our left, we caught a spy in Coldstream clothes. He tried to impress on us in excellent Cockney language that he had been sent down for rations, and had lost his way back. However, I told him he had nothing to fear as he would only be taken to headquarters and searched, and if not proved guilty would be liberated and sent back to his regiment. That man proved to be a spy, and a dangerous one too, and later on was shot. On the morning of the 28th we occupied a shell-proof dug-outs (No.6 platoon and Mr Lawson), numbers 5, 7 and 8 going to trenches to the left of the Menin Road, and our trench joined another that ran into that road. Further on our right were the Grenadiers. Behind us were ruined houses. I was sent with a patrol along a ditch to a fallen tree which lay across the main road. I trod on something soft as I led the way, and on making investigations found it to be a dead Grenadier. I returned with my patrol at daybreak and reported all clear. We carried back the corpse of the Grenadier and placed it at the back of our bomb-proof shelters ready for burial. At 1 o'clock we got a severe dose of shells, which just passed over our bomb-proof shelters into the ruins at the back, some of which were still smouldering after being set on fire days before. This day our look-out was killed. He was standing at his post near to the door of the shelter when a shell struck on the very edge of the trench in front, and he was buried beneath the roof of his dug-out. He shouted for help, but his voice was so faint that he appeared to be quite distant from us. I told Lieut. Lawson some of my platoon were trying to get him out, and it would do no good for too many to expose themselves in the middle of the day. I went along the trench to see who it was and when he was dug out he was taking his last breath. He was in a terrible mess, and must have had ten or twelve gaping holes in his body and head. We buried him and the Grenadier together in the evening. We had just finished our task when Lieut. Blair, our Company Officer, came along and told us he had heard from good authority that we were going to be attacked at 5.30am next morning, and he ordered us to keep a sharp look-out. Lieut. Lawson's parting words with him that night were "Be sure, sir, we will be ready for them." That night we hunted up all the spare rifles we could get, putting them into working order, and loading them with ten rounds of ammunition each. They came in very handy the following morning, and although there were only 14 of us in my platoon we had about four rifles each, placing them ready for immediate use before snatching a couple of hours sleep.
At about 4am we awoke, and a little later our patrol came in reporting unusual activity in the German lines. As luck would have it, it was a terribly misty morning, that after firing ten or fifteen rounds in quick succession, the bolts would stick and probably cost a man his life. At 5.30 precisely we heard the marching of feet and sound of wheels, intermingled with unintelligible commands and shouts. We began to feel excited and got our eyes "on the mark." Suddenly we saw them advancing right across our front towards the Grenadiers' trenches scarcely 30 yards from us. The Germans must have been unaware that they were so close to us, for they were walking along at "trail arms" and looking on the ground. We quickly passed the word to the Grenadiers, at the same time opening a rapid enfilading fire, and the merry battle commenced. We heard and awful about on the left, and knew that it was the Germans, who had charged our trenches on the other side of the main road, but could not see anything on account of the mist. After this we had enough to do to look after ourselves. After enfilading the front line of the Germans, we saw another line making towards us. If we had a couple of Maxim guns there it would have been glorious. Well, we shouted, "Give it them, boys," and the front line went down; it was impossible to miss even in the fog. They fell in heaps, and others of the second line ran to them for cover, but we fired into the heaps and shouts and groans could be heard. We had by no means finished yet and round the back of us appeared Sergts. Carr, Smith and Aitkman with the remains of their platoons. They had retired on the left of the road and came to reinforce No.6 platoon. They were ordered to go back to their trenches and they obeyed. I never saw them again; they were either killed or captured. In the meantime we had been very busy, and the Germans began to crowd around another fallen tree about 30 yards in front of us. We fired at every helmet we could see. I noticed my first rifle was beginning to give trouble, so I threw it on one side and seized another, and so on until I got to my last one. Three lines charges then (one at a time, of course) and a few that got in to our trenches did not know whether to tackle us with the bayonet or surrender, some dropping their rifles and holding their arms up, and some running back. We had no time to feel sentimental so dropped everyone who came in line with our sights. A second line charged, and only one got into the trench, and he was shot by my chum Larkins, who nearly shot me at the same time. My last rifle began to show signs of trouble, but I had fired about 40 rounds out of it so couldn't grumble. One good thing, we had plenty of ammunition, having two bandoliers each besides the usual 150 rounds in our equipment, which I had not touched. However, after repulsing the third attack, I said to Lieut. Lawson, "I think we had better get out of this, sir." He replied, "No, we must not leave this trench," but, I am sorry to say, it was absolutely necessary a few seconds afterwards. Through the ruins at the back of us I noticed a few Germans emerge, and also saw the Grenadiers retire a bit owing to the effect of our artillery, whose shells were falling short. I pulled Lieut. Lawson out along a communication trench, and in the open we separated. I went with the Grenadiers, and we lined a trench on the crest of a rise. I heard an officer shout, "This way, the Queen's," and we lay there, a very nice mixture, no doubt. I fired way merrily, but had to keep letting the rifle cool and try and prevent the bolt from sticking. On one side of me was a Grenadier and on the other a Queen's, and both told me they were hit, one in the hip and the other just above the knee. They said to me, "Could you help us out of this, Jock," and I said, "Yes, in a minute," so after firing the remainder of my ammunition I bandaged them lying down. On getting up a bullet cut through my coat, and just burnt my khaki apron, rather a narrow shave. I seemed, to be blessed with good luck. Well, I shall never forget that walk across those ploughed fields with two big chaps hanging on to my neck; it nearly killed me. Well, I went with them until we came across some stretcher-bearers of the Queen's, who took charge of them. Strong bodies of reinforcements were advancing across country and I saw what I thought were our chaps in the distance reforming. When I got to them they proved to be Gordons, who with some of our other companies had just been in a charge, so I attached myself to them for the time being, until I could find my own regiment or what was left of them. We stood for a while watching the German shells (which were being aimed at an old windmill) burst. They must have spent about £500 to demolish that useless old landmark, as it was not being used as an observation post, for which I think the Germans took it. They fired about eight or nine "Jack Johnsons," with a sprinkling of high explosives, before they laid it in the dust. However, when the fun was over, I went with the Gordons, and we picked up one of their officers lying dead in a ditch. He was in a terrible mess, hit by high explosives. We carefully lifted him out, and carried him on a door. Darkness approached, and we began to feel hungry. We were resting awhile on the main road, and a party of the 42nd came along under Lieut. Lawson. They halted and the lieutenant asked if there were any of the Black Watch there, and on my answering "Yes," he took me by the hand and shook it warmly, saying, "I'm pleased to see you alive Jackson, I never expected to see you again." I joined his party and marched to Brigade Headquarters. We were told that Captain Mowbray and Lieut. Blair were captured, as also were Capt. Krook and Lieut. McNaughton, the latter absolutely refusing to give up his revolver until shot in the leg and then forced. Another incident happened in the early morning. There were six stretcher-bearers in the trenches, and three of them were married men. The latter were captured, and their names were:- Bandsman Egerton, Hemmingway and Izzat. The three single ones, Bandsman Sexton, Perkins and vans, escaped. Well, on reaching headquarters, the roll was called, and we only mustered about 40, thus losing about 304 on that day from my company alone. When we had rested awhile we marched along a road leading from the main thoroughfare to a large estate, where the Camerons were entrenched that night. We got a full company's rations, and nedless to say did full justice to them. We slept in a tobacco shed, where wood was piled up, and the men lay on those most comfortable timbers, and slept too.
After we had had some breakfast, we manned some reserve trenches along a hedge on the estate. The grounds were lovely, and a mansion or chateau, as yet untouched, in spite of big shell holes on the lawns, stood out in beautiful defiance, surrounded by gigantic trees as sentinels. Big "Jack Johnsons" came over again aiming at the house, but none touched it. They also gave us a slight dose of shrapnel for dinner, and Sergt. Chapman, an assistant schoolmaster at Aldershot, was killed by one of them, and two men wounded. That night, owing to the scarcity of N.C.O.'s I took my turn with another man to guard a pathway leading to the Camerons' trenches.
BELPER NEWS - 10th September 1915
LANCE-CORPORAL JACKSON'S DIARY
ANNIHILATION OF THE BLACK WATCH
HIS TERRIBLE EXPERIENCES
This further instalment of the above narrates how an officer died in the diarists arms, incidents of a dangerous reconnoitring expedition to a farm house, and the many killed and wounded officers and comrades during (unreadable) exploits. He also describes how a section of the Black Watch were annihilated by the Prussian Guardsmen, and his own extraordinary escape. The diary continues as follows:-
This day my breakfast was brought to me, being on guard. We had just nicely finished and having a smoke when we got orders to reinforce the Camerons in their trenches. One of their Company runners directed us through the estate, and on the very edge were the trenches to which we had to go, and we were exposed to a severe rifle fire, two men being hit. We got into the trench and found it already occupied by "A" Company, and so we had to go back the same way after losing two more men, which we could ill afford. We managed to reach another part of the hedge, and had to run across the open to get to the Camerons' trench. On dropping into it Lieut. Lawson shouted to us to get back, as there was no room for us, and about five of us had to get into dug-outs on the inside of the hedge. While here I noticed two officers of the artillery in a dug-out at the hedge, making observations. Just as they were retiring with their information a shrapnel shell burst, hitting the taller officer in the back. My messing chum (Whitelaw, who was killed later on) and I ran out, and with the assistance of the officer was bringing him to our dug-out, when more shells burst, and we stood looking at each other wondering which of us was to be the next victim. My word! Our patient was a weight, and it took us all our time to lift him. We managed, however, to get him into the dug-out as gently as possible. His companion told me that he had only been at the front one day, and his name was R.W. Fletcher, the bowman of Oxford Boat Crew, and that he felt like getting killed himself, as he was so grieved about his chum's injury. The officer also paid us a compliment on our bravery, which we brushed aside saying "What man wouldn't do the same." He at first mistook us for the Camerons, but I told him we belonged to the 42nd. He asked me if I would look after him, as he had to get back with his information. I told him I was a stretcher-bearer before the war commenced, and would look after him to the best of my ability, and then I was left alone with the dying man. I gently cut his clothes, to get to the wound, which was right in the kidney, the hole being as large as a five shilling piece. I dressed it and noticed that his lips turned white and his eyes rolled, and I knew that the worst was approaching. My feelings may be imagined as I held his head in my arm til he expired. The only words he uttered were "Where's the wound?" He died half an hour after his fellow officer left. I gathered his belongings and put them together in his haversack and handed them to an officer of the Camerons, retaining his wrist watch, fully intending, should I have the luck to go hoe on leave or after the war to take back to his father and relate how his son was killed. Towards evening I had to leave him and join Lieut. Lawson in the trench, who was then in command of "B" Company. The trench had been severely "coal boxed" and a lot of the Camerons were buried alive, and were all dead when we dug them out. A Major of the Camerons assumed command over us as well, and I was told off with the men to go to a farm and find out whether it was occupied by Germans. It was a moonlight night, and I knew the task was dangerous. However, it had to be done, so I led the way across our barbed wire and advanced cautiously, expecting a bullet every step. As no shot came, I proceeded nearer with my men, and suddenly I heard a "sh" come from the farm, when I instantly lay down among some straw, motioning my men to do the same. Presently I heard voices resuming as I thought an interrupted chat. We could not distinguish a word, although we heard their voices plainly. Instantly, without warning, a German ran out of the door and made for his own lines. My men put their rifles up to fire, but I knocked the barrels down, knowing the folly of it. About a minute after we could distinctly hear cock crows, owl hoots, whistling, and all German signals which I have heard before knowing well that cocks did not crow at night. My duty was to find out if the enemy was massing for an attack, so I sent my men back quietly, as I could do much better by myself. After they had got back to the trench I crawled along slowly, holding a bunch of straw before me, which I had to abandon on nearing the house, on account of the rustling noise it made. Crawling nearer - more work for my knees, I got to a window and peeped in, but the house appeared empty. I returned and made my report, We left about midnight, and evacuated those trenches, as we were too far in advance again, We left about midnight, and returned about three-quarters of a mile and dug trenches through the night, and we were all well under cover by daybreak, Lieut. Lawson and myself occupying the same dug-out. Drafts joined us (though only small ones) nearly every other day. On the night of the 4th a draft of 20, including Lieut. Rennie (who had previously been wounded in the fighting on the Aisne) joined us, and on the following day we got a sudden call to reinforce the Bedfords or Berks, I forget which. We had to go right across the open and round hedges. On nearing the trenches, we were passing round a corner of a hedge, and every man going round got hit. First Lieut. Rennie fell, again wounded, then another four of five fell also, including chum Larkin and Archie Geddes (both band chums), Lieut. Lawson shouted to us from behind to lead round another way, which was much safer, and we had to crawl flat upon the ground back again and round a farm to a better cover. After lining the hedge for an hour, and men constantly getting hit, we were politely told to crawl to Lieut. Rennie and the other wounded men, and get them safely to the farm, when French troops began to come up in lines across the open, and were subjected to a heavy shelling. They made for our farm, which began to get dangerous, as they could be seen, and shells would be sent after them. I again bandaged some wounded men, and Larkin was taken away on a stretcher with a bullet through the groin, and Geddes, who had first been wounded in the arm and refused to leave the firing line, got another bullet clean through his stomach, and we put him into a little stuffy hen roost at the corner of the farm furthest away from the firing line, and soon we had the place full of wounded. Sergt. McGowan (the old regiment left back) was wounded here also, but he was smiling as it was "a soft one." He said to me "There's a chance of being home for the New Year after all." to which I replied "Yes, lucky dog." However, as "Mac" was being bandaged in another part of the farm I went round the corner to the place where the other wounded were, and just as I was gong into the doorway a sniper bullet struck my haversack and shattered a map to bits, coming out at the back, just grazing my left hip, causung a burning sensation. I warned others not to roam about outside. I soon got a job bandaging some of the French too, and one fellow who had a big wound in the shoulder spoke in broken English to me. I was dressing the wound while he stood up, and we were all on the side of the house farthest from the enemy, when another bullet, actually struck him in the leg. After this I took him into a pig sty and finished the bandaging there. He said he was pleased, and I asked him why, and he replied "I am pleased that it did not hit you instead of me," such is the comradeship existing in the Allied ranks. We went back to our original trenches that night near Battalion headquarters, which were "splinter proof," and assumed ordinary night duties. We heard that during the day Lieut. Nolan was killed, Lieut. Rennie wounded, and Capt. Amery wounded in four places. Next day, 6th, was a quiet one, except for shells, one of which burst right at the door of Regimental headquarters, wounded Major Murray and nearly blinding him with dust. Eventually Col. Stewart arrived and took command of the regiment. On the night of the 7th another small draft joined, and Piper Thom, who had been at Magersfontein and was wounded on the Aisne, came to his original company. Two days before this I was promoted to Platoon Sergeant. Capt. Sprott took command of "B" Company, and Lieut. Lawson came to my platoon again.
We got another sudden call to reinforce the Scots Guards at a corner of a wood, which I honestly think was the most dangerous place we had been in. The call luckily came towards evening. The North Lancs., who were on the right side of the Scots Guards, were continually harassed by the Germans, and I heard peculiar stories from one of them. He told me that on the night we came up to reinforce them and the Scots Guards they had occasion to retire from their first trench to the one behind it, and they heard that we were coming to help them, which bucked them up a bit. On going back to the front trench with some of the Black Watch, this chap noticed about four or five figures in the front trench covered with water-proof sheets and facing the German lines in a firing position. My informant nudged the first figure, saying, "Are you one of the Black Watch?" A muffled "Ugh" was the answer, and growing suspicious he asked the same question and got the same answer. An officer walking at the back of the trench said "Is that right; are those fellows Black Watch!" The chap who told me this pulled the water-proof sheet off one of the men, and saw he was a German, immediately blowing his brains out. The other figures turned round, and before anything could be done to stop them, shot the officer, but only wounding him. They then bolted for their own lines, which were only about 100 yards away, but were brought down before they got to safety. A Maxim was brought up, and was badly needed later on, when a strong party of Germans came to see if that advanced trench was still occupied. The Maxim just ran right along them, and they went down like skittles. Well, my platoon went further to the left under Lieut. Lawson, and here were dead bodies of Scots Guards, Algerians, French, Germans, and North Lancs, lying just at the back of their trenches, having been pushed out, and not buried because of the snipers who were close to the trench. Pools of blood could be seen all along the trench where the poor souls had fallen, nearly all pierced in the head. There was no room for my platoon, so Lieut. Lawson sent me back, but stayed himself in the firing line with the other three platoons. We had orders to carry rations, fill water bottles, and act as messengers, etc., to those in the trench.
Sergt. Fleming and Sergt Sands were killed by snipers, both being shot through the head,
Never to my dying day shall I forget Nov. 11Th! At about 6am the Germans started shelling us unmercifully with massed guns. We were lying in the third line of trenches, which were made shell-proof by having them covered with the doors of ruined barns and three feet of earth on the top of these. For about three hours they kept up a terrific fire with high explosives and shrapnel and "Jack Johnsons." Although there was only one part of the trench left uncovered to enter and depart from, it was utterly impossible to keep a man on the look-out. Every yard of ground was shelled, and we could hear the branches of trees being ripped off, and also the earth falling on top of the dug-out, so we just hugged the side of the trench nearest the Germans, and awaited developments, as we guessed there was "something doing." Well, we lay for about two and a half hours, huddled up, and suddenly a wounded Cameron dropped into my dug-out, and implored us to bandage him. I got a surprise. Knowing that they occupied the front line of trenches, I asked him if the were retiring, as he had no equipment on. He answered "We are beyond retiring; we are surrounded," and added "Look there," pointing outside. I looked, and I shall never forget how helpless I felt in those covered trenches, for lining the hedge were those big Prussian Guardsmen, with their backs to us, firing at retreating soldiers, who were making for a wood across the open. Well, I must own I did not know what to do. I was responsible for my platoon, who numbered 14, and myself. I could have shot the Prussian officer in charge as he had his back to me, but I thought of my men; I knew the officer would have been avenged if I had shot him. We were absolutely overpowered by sheer weight of numbers, and could not retaliate. I said to my men "it's all up boys." immediately the officer turned round and told me to fetch every man out, making sure that we put our rifles and ammunition out first. I said to the officer, "Well, sir, I suppose the game's up?" He answered in excellent English "Yes, sergeant, but we don't take prisoners." I wondered wat he meant, and immediately we were surrounded by Prussians I kept turning my eyes from left to right expecting a bayonet through me from behind. The officer said "We will give you a chance. You see that gap in the hedge! Well, through it you go, on at a time." The men passed through and were shot down before they got ten yards away. All this time the shelling continued and some of the Germans were getting hit by their own shells. I was last to go, but before I went I said to the officer "Sir, you are not giving the men half a chance." to which he replied, "Take your chance too. You are very slow for a sergeant," and with that he lunged at me with his sword, I did not wait to feel how sharp it was, but I just felt the point of it in my -(censor!)- as I dived between the last two men of my platoon. One ran to the right and the other to the left, and I ran straight on I saw how my men had been shot down previous to this, so as I got just across the road, I instinctively ducked, alost bending myself double. I heard my two companions drop with a sickening cry as I bent. I ran a zig-zag course, grinding my teeth, and keeping my head low, all the time expecting a bullet in me. I heard the angry "chough, chough" of the bullets as they struck the ground on either side of me, but still I ran on till I dropped into a shell hole, and a Cameron dropped on the top of me. That hole saved my life. I looked up and saw the Germans still advancing, but at the same time lifting our wounded men and helping them along. I could not make this out after what had previously happened. I got out of the hole and ran towards our hospital, which I thought would be a safe place, but when I got within 200 yards, about 10 to 20 Germans emerged and opened fire on me again. I thought I never was going to get out of it alive. I made a sharp turn to my left, probably the sharpest turn I have ever done, and made for the wood. I joined some Camerons, and we lined a trench under our adjutant, who told me to go and get a rifle and ammunition, which i eventually took from a wounded comrade, and ran back to join the remnants of the regiment. A major of the artillery got the whole of us together, and told us to lie on each side of a gun, which was in danger of being captured, owing to the horses being killed during the heavy shelling. The major reassured us that they would get no further than that gun. So we waited awhile, and presently some of them emerged from the trees, and the gun opened fire with shrapnel, and we fired rapidly. There were only a few of them at first, but there was not many left for us to finish, and we charged, the major shouting "Now's your chance, boys," After this the Northamptons came up and charged too, taking many prisoners. I thought I would go and find where my regiment was forming up, and on learning that our regimental headquarters had been under a German Guard till the Northamptons came up, I wondered aimlessly about across the open till I was nearly struck by a shell, which exploded within a few yards of me and sent the loose earth in my direction. I went to a farm house, where some stretcher-bearers of the Bedfordshires were billeted, and a house about twenty yards away was in flames. I got a drink of tea and some bread and bacon, but I could not drink much tea, although I was very thirsty, because the water was soapy – a lump of soap had slipped down the pump when someone had been washing, and no matter how long I pumped it always tasted soapy. So I made my way to Divisional Headquarters, where I had to stay while a staff officer questioned me as to what had happened, and when I told him he told me to try to get something to eat and drink. A sergeant of his mounted police showing me where he stayed, told me to help myself, for which I thanked him. A little while after when talking with him outside his billet we witnessed awful sights. Wounded Algerians, Coldstreams, Royal Scots, 42nd, Camerons, and other regiments passed us, but no stragglers. Then German prisoners appeared, and who should be in front of them but the very officer who butchered my platoon and tried to do the same to me. Picture to yourself the agonising feeling of self restraint as I held my rifle in my hand and our officer saying to him "Come this way, and we'll look after you." He was apparently wounded, as he limped towards us and was taken into one of the estaminets. I managed at last, along with some Camerons, under a senior sergeant, to rejoin the remnants of my regiment and take up the very same position as we had lost in the morning. It rained all night to make us more comfortable. However, I was taken out of the trench and put in charge of a guard. That night I slept in a pig-sty with clean straw, with a pig as a pillow, that absolutely refused to go out in the rain, and as we did not wish to make a noise by moving it, we had to be content to sleep where we could, as we did not know how far the Germans were from us and thought we could do with a few hours sleep, after a very hard day of it. I heard the following day that one of the 42nd who was being led away as a prisoner had a miraculous escape. A German shell wiped twelve Germans out, and left the Black Watch man standing. His pocket was blown clean away. His name I believe, was Smith.
(To be continued)
BELPER NEWS - 17th September 1915
LANCE-CORPORAL JACKSON'S DIARY
STORIES OF BRITISH HEROISM
CHRISTMAS IN THE TRENCHES
Interest will be maintained this week in the continuation of Lance-Corpl. Jackson's (1st Black Watch) daily diary of the war, which narrates many stirring incidents, notably concerning British heroism and Christmas Day in the trenches.
The diary proceeds:-
I was relieved from my guard and went to my dug-out along the hedge to see if I could get my pack. Some English soldiers were going up at the time, so I accompanied them. It was not quite light yet, but I could see the bare legs of one poor comrade who had fallen the previous day scattered all over the place; also could see along the hedge dead Germans who had been shooting our troops on the 11th. When I came to the gap in the hedge where I had had to run for it, I left the English and told them I was going to find my pack. As I passed through the hedge I noticed that a German helmet was on the bank of my old dug-out, and as I approached with my rifle at the ready, I heard a scuffle and immediately challenged: "Who's there?" No answer came, I challenged again, and a face appeared coloured green; he tried to put his rifle out, but I was too quick for him, and gave him the contents of my chamber, which as luck would have it was loaded. Had his rifle not caught in some part of his belt or pouches, I might have got the round instead. He fell back with a groan, and I saw some of the English soldiers run back to see what was wrong. I told them not to mind as it was only a sniper in my dug-out, and first it was my shot they heard, I was going to bandage him, but he expired before I could render first aid. I felt sorry, but it was me or him. He looked peculiar with a green face; no doubt he did it to hide the whiteness of his face at night. They are up to all sorts of dodges. Well, my pack was gone, so I looked to see what he had in his. I got a jersey, post-cards and a snuff-box, and also took his helmet and badge and then went back to headquarters. It was not almost daylight, so we were told to occupy the dug-outs around the farm which formed our headquarters. The one I was told off to was occupied by a wounded German, whom we lifted out and took to our own dressing station. The day was quiet except for one shell, which burst unpleasantly close to us. At night we relieved the Camerons who were with us, and both regiments hardly mustered 200 men. We had one officer, and so had the Camerons. What a deplorable state we were in, having lost our officer commanding, slightly wounded; Lieut. Lawson, killed; Lieut. Sprott, fate unknown; and Capt. West, wounded.
We were relieved by the Camerons, and moved back about a mile, where we got our rations and hot tea, and slept in dug-outs in a wood near Hooge.
Reveille was at five am and after breakfast we moved to another wood and made fresh dug-outs. At night a draft of about 300 men joined us, and we were badly in need of them as our previous strength in the firing line was about 140.
We moved off at about 4am, passing through Ypres, which had not suffered at that period, through Bailleul on our way to Borre, near Hazebrouck, where we eventually billeted. We stayed here five weeks drilling and training and re-fitting the regiment. It was here that His Majesty the King passed on his way to visit his troops in the trenches, and Q.M.S. Dunn was presented with the "Medaille Militaire." We lined the road during a heavy downpour of rain and cheered the King as he walked through our ranks. I heard him say, "It must be very trying for your men in the trenches this weather," to which our Colonel (with whom he was talking) replied that we were eager to get back to them again. We thought we were going to spend Christmas and New Year at Borre, but again we were to be disappointed.
On this day in the afternoon we got the order to pack up ready to move off at half-an-hours notice. After a hurried tea we left Borre, and carrying out a forced march of about 25 miles, we arrived at Bethune at about midnight, and billeted in a huge warehouse. It had been a very trying march, and quite a number fell out, but rejoined later.
Our Brigade left Bethune and proceeded to the firing line, Black Watch in reserve, We passed Bouyrey and Annequin, and then we lay on the road-side all day. News came back that a combined charge of the London Scottish, Scots Guards, Camerons and Indians cleared the village of Givenchy and captured two lines of trenches. The news was very encouraging. That night I was put in charge of a guard at a canal bridge and Brigade Headquarters, which was rather a hot spot at the time. I and my guard were relieved the following morning, and that night we were billeted in houses and barns on the side of the road where we had previously stayed in reserve.
We relieved the French troops at "French Farm," and snipers gave us a hot welcome on our way, but we had excellent cover in the ruined buildings at Givenchy, and no casualties occurred. We occupied this farm which was made into a miniature fort with loopholes, and the French troops moved out.
A trench ran out from the farm, thereby not unnecessarily exposing anyone entering the trench from the farm end. A sad incident occurred while we were in occupation here. A messing chum of mine named MacIntosh (who joined us on the Aisne after travelling all the way from Vancouver in Canada to Scotland) went out with Sergt. Henderson to try and fetch in a wounded Cameron, who had been crawling about for four days amongst dead bodies trying to get a drink from their water-bottles, and who was still living in spite of the snow and wet. We could distinguish the mark in the snow which he had made when crawling. We whistled and shouted to him time after time when he appeared to be crawling towards the German trenches, and he would look in our direction and nod. Even this seemed to be too much for him, and he would take another rest. He seemed utterly devoid of the position, and didn't know where to crawl for safety. However, I am off the subject. Sergt. Henderson and MacIntosh went out unarmed to a house just in front which we thought was occupied by snipers. However, no shot was fired until MacIntosh left the cover of the house, and proceeded in the direction of the wounded man, utterly regardless of the danger; it was daylight and we had previously asked him to wait until night, but without result. Well, he reached the wounded man, and gave him his water-bottle, and then he faced us and stood erect. We shouted to him, but it was too late. He staggered and fell, before we heard the report, and as he lay on the ground facing us, he shook his head as if to say "I'm finished," then moved no more. Sergt. Henderson then proceeded, and we shouted to him to get back, but he scorned our warning, and after getting near enough to see MacIntosh, he got back in safely, saying: "Poor Mac is finished." After this, Henderson again went out in disobedience to his Company officer's orders and brought in two Camerons, one wounded, and the other who had stayed with him in the dug-out after the memorable charge of the 21st. He also reported that a wounded German was in the dug-out. That night the German and Cameron who had made such a brave struggle for his life were both brought in by volunteers, who in my opinion should have been recommended. Sergt. Henderson received the D.C.M., but was made fully aware that he had disobeyed orders.
We were awakened early by shouts from the Germans, who we thought were attacking. We were at our rifles in a second, but nothing came, and we fired a few volleys just to let them know there was to be no "Christmas truce" in our part of the line at any rate. We put out our usual sentries or look-outs, and carried on day duties. There was an awful lot of carol singing during the day, but no photographs were taken of Germans in the open with their arms linked in those of Britishers; plenty of time for that after the war. We were relieved that night by the London Scottish, and slept in billets about a mile back. During our stay in this particular district we relieved each other by companies, sometimes by the Scots Guards and sometimes by the London Scottish. We would also billet in Bethune when the regiment were altogether. A peculiar thing generally happens in our regiment. I have noticed (nearly in every case) that when one of our officers has been killed or wounded his servant generally "cops it" too. On the Marne, for instance, Capt. Dalglish was killed and servant wounded; Lieut. Wilson killed and servant killed; at Langemark Capt. Ruthon and servant wounded; and here at Givenchy MacIntosh was a servant to Lieut. McAndrew, both being killed within two days of each other. It happened thus in Lieut. McAndrew's case; behind our first line of trenches at the end of French Farm we were digging a reserve and communication trench. The men in front were told to open fire on the German trenches while our digging party ran from the farm across the open, a distance of 20 yards, to the unfinished reserve trench. Lieut. McAndrew, who was in charge, was last. A sniper's bullet just clipped his ear as he was getting into the trench, and he shouted to the men in the front trench: "For goodness sake open fire on that ____." Here he dropped shot through the heart. He evidently meant to finish the sentence with "house," at which he pointed. He was buried in the ruined graveyard of Givenchy. When I say ruined graveyard, I mean that very few of the gravestones even remained standing, and big shells had torn up the graves and crucifixes, and made a terrible mess. Nothing eventful happened after this, but I had occasion when looking for firewood to look through the ruins of Givenchy, and what an awful sight it was! Times out of number this village has been in the hands of the Germans, and each time they have been driven out. Amongst the debris in one of the houses I saw the hand of some poor unfortunate sticking out, and yellow in colour. At other places could be seen a leg here, a man's head there – it was awful. I shall never forget such sights.
BELPER NEWS - 24th September 1915
LANCE-CORPORAL JACKSON'S DIARY
THE WINTER CAMPAIGN
CHATTY YARN OF LIFE AT THE FRONT
In the appended instalment of Lance-Corpl. Jackson's (1st Black Watch) daily diary of the war the period from December to May is covered. Corpl. Jackson has many more interesting and thrilling stories to narrate.
The diary continues:-
Nothing eventful happened outside the ordinary course of events until this day, when another unforgettable episode for me occurred. Early in the morning we occupied a new trench (the R.E.'s holding it in front of French Farm, which was getting too easy a mark for the German guns). I was busy watching the sky when I saw something falling near to the French; it appeared to me to be a loose brick, but I immediately heard an explosion. I had never seen loose shells falling like that before-someone said they were fired from a trench mortar-and then I knew what they were and kept a sharp look-out. My section occupied the part of the trench at the corner of the farm, which offered an excellent mark. One shell dropped at the corner, killing two and wounding three of my section. Two chaps named Oswald and Zigmar were the chaps killed. The latter had German parents, but was a well-known Highlander and old soldier. I was sorry to lose both. However, I heard Wehole shouting for assistance, and I made for him, but did not get there. I happened to look up and saw "one" dropping straight down for us, I just said to my chum, Corpl. Wishart, "My God, Georgie, look at this one coming!" He looked up, and then we both dived in corners of the trench waiting for what we thought was certain death. I heard it strike the back of our trench, and about three seconds afterwards the explosion came. A great wave of earth half buried me and three others. I struggled out, and a Lieut came along and told us to get into the communication trench. While going a man named Frank Carrol was killed by a ricochet, the bullet piercing his head. Pvtes, Wehole, Oswald and Carrol were buried at the back of the farm that night.
I have nothing of special interest to relate up to the 25th, as we only carried on relieving and being relieved. At this time we were lying in billets in Bethune when we got the order to move at once as part of the trenches at Quinchy had been capture don the occasion of the Kaiser's birthday. Quinchy is near Givenchy, and we were told that the Guards had been too heavily pressed, and force to retire. We moved up the road in Quinchy to a cottage which we had to pass through to get to a trench half full of water, and it was from here that the 42nd charged at 2pm. "B" and "D" Companies suffered heavily, losing 94 and about 104 respectively. "A" Company were in reserve; but although they occupied the trench that my company had left, they were not called upon. In this charge we ("B" company) lost our four officers, two being killed and two wounded. Meanwhile "C" company (who had been called up in reserve to the 4th R.W. Fusiliers three days previously) had we heard, done good work at Givenchy. The Germans having gained a foothold in the village, the R.W.F., retired and the Black Watch – I should say "C" company – under Capt. Green, a fearless officer, charged the Germans and droves them out of the place, taking 58 prisoners, including two officers. On being captured one of the German officers asked: "Are you the Black Watch?" and on being told "Yes," by one of "C" company, answered; "If we had known it we would not have attacked," adding, "We were told that the trenches here were occupied by Boy Scouts, and even then we had to advance or be shot with our own machine guns." My part in the Quinchy charge was nothing exceptional, but I must say this; That within two hours of the charge not a stretcher bearer could be produced, and men were lying about in agony. Some who were slightly wounded, and tried to get to a place of safety were shot at by the Germans, and in many cases killed. I crawled to some wounded men and bandaged about 80 wounded, both Camerons and Scots Guards, and my own regiment, and sent them off according to the seriousness of their wounds. When the stretcher bearers appeared they had a busy time. Up to three o'clock in the morning I was busy, and then was relieved.
We moved back to Annequin early in the morning, and from there to Bethune. We did not count on many days' rest at Bethune, and Capt. Kedie, who was slightly wounded at Givenchy, came from hospital to take command of "B" company again, but was sent back the same night. Lieut. Edwards, who received the Military Cross at Givenchy while in charge of "C" company, assumed temporary command of "B" company, and reorganised it. Word came from Orderly Room that one lance-corporal and a private of each company who had not been wounded or sick were to have a few days leave,.... However, we got a move on a few days later, and went in reserve to Bonvery and from there to Annequin, but we were not needed and went back to Bethune on the 28th. Major Murray rejoined, and a big batch from Le Havre and Nantes were also sent to the regiment. On the 29th we left Bethune, passing through Chocques and Alluagne and arriving at Bethune. We stayed there for three weeks training digging trenches and practicing attacks and bomb throwing. A very sad accident occurred with a defective bomb, which killed Major Murray, Sergt. Hart and wounded an Engineer officer. The facts were: The regimental bomb throwers were receiving instruction from this officer of the Engineers, who said to the Major (after he had given his lecture and demonstrated with one): "Will you throw one?" The Major said; "No, let Sergt. Hart fling one first, and we will see about flinging one later on." Sergt. Hart then took the bomb, and Major Murray looked over his shoulder. As soon as the Sergt. Took out the pin and turned, the cap exploded in his hand almost before he had time to throw it. It shattered Hart's body and fired his ammunition, Major Murray was struck in the eye, and he died later in the day. They were duly buried, and the Lieut. Of the Engineers, who had received awful injuries to his knees, was taken to hospital. On February 16th we left Burbure and proceeded to Lacature, where we had dinner in a field. When it was dark we proceeded to the breastworks and redoubts, which the Ghurkas held and relieved them. Afterwards the 1st Brigade worked by their own regiments. We went for a short rest back to Hinges, and we were only there a week before we were sent back to the same position at the Rue de Bois on the right of Richebourg. We were not in the attack at Neuve Chapelle, but we expected to be as on March 10th when the big bombardment took place we were "standing by" in our trenches ready to attack, but were not called upon. So nothing important took place and we carried out our own reliefs, chiefly two days in the trenches and two out, between "Indian Village" and "Chocolate Menier" corner, which had been named for purposes of identification. Nothing of special note took place.
In the evening we were relieved from "Indian Village" by the 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and billeted at Le Touret. We just stretched our limbs with bayonet fighting during our three days stay here. On the 19th we left Le Touret and billeted near Locon for another three days. Leaving Locon at 3.55 on the 22nd we passed Hinges and Chocques and billeted at Alluagne, arriving at 12.30pm. We stayed here until May 2nd, holding sports on the 27th and doing "wood" attacks during the rest. We left for the trenches in May 2nd. I thought what a contrast it was to May 2nd, 1914, the day I was married-and the happiest day of my life. However we returned the same way through chocques, Hinges and Locon, and on by the canal to Richebourgh St Vaast, where we stayed in reserve trenches. Here, the Church at Richebourgh which had served as an observation post for our artillery, presented an awful appearance, as did the houses near it. In the graveyard the scene was terrible-gravestones scattered all over the place, coffins in bits, skulls and bones of human bodies lay in indescribable confusion, and we buried 17 Germans whose bodies we scattered by their own shells. It took 200 shells to demolish that church, so it must have cost them a bit. On the 3rd of May the Prince of Wales passed us on his way to the trenches and on returning had a talk with Lieut. Hay (the 6ft 11in giant). We relieved the Camerons in the second line of the trenches in front of Richebourgh, and on the eve of the 5th we noticed a peculiar mist overhanging the German trenches. We took it for their asphyxiating gasses, but as we were prepared with our respirators we had nothing to fear. In the afternoon and evening we gave them a taste of big shells, and they replied with their "swish-bang" at our breastworks. We repeated the dose on the 6th, and caught a German working party lovely, and turned a Maxim on them.
(To be continued)
BELPER NEWS - 1st October 1915
LANCE-CORPORAL JACKSON'S DIARY
STORMING THE GERMAN TRENCHES
This week Lance-Corporal Jackson, 1st Black Watch, deals with a terrific attack made on the German trenches during the month of May, every detail of which he describes in a lucid and vivid manner. He continues:-
Each man was issued with a sandbag, which has to be carried when we charge tomorrow. Some lovely shells of ours played havoc with the German breastworks, and nearly every shot told. As soon as we heard them going over we would rush to the parapet to see the effect. Of course, had we been in the first line of trenches this would have been absolute madness, as Mr Sniper is always on the look out for heads when shells come over their lines. In fact, one man was killed by a sniper in the firing line, when observing the effect of a shell. He was struck in the neck. Lance-Corporal Rogers, of "C" company, was also killed by shells, and a Corporal wounded. Everything is being prepared for an advance tomorrow. Two hundred bombs are "drawn" and extra ammunition served. In the evening it started to rain, so we are told that operations are cancelled for 24 hours.
We passed rather a quiet day, except for the usual dose of German shells, our big guns being content with getting the proper range of prominent objects in the enemy's lines. At 9pm we were relieved and went back to a reserve trench, so as to be at hand for tomorrow's charge.
At 3.30am we were awakened and our aeroplanes got busy, and then the big guns commenced about 5am, demolishing places that were suspected of containing Maxims etc. The smaller guns then commenced and another Neuve Chapelle started. We moved forward to the second line of reserve trenches as other regiments advanced to the firing line. Soon the German guns replied and we saw we were not going to get it all our own way. In spite of the number of guns we had going, the Germans replied with high explosives, and one landed just at the end of the parapet, killing right our five of our platoon. The wounded began to pour in from the first charge that had been made by the King's Royal Rifles, Sussex Regiment, North Lancs., and Northamptons, and they told us that the firt line of German trenches had been taken, which proved untrue, as, although some companies did get into the German trenches we don't know what became of them. When the 42nd went into the firing line the scene between the German trenches and ours was appalling. Dead and dying khaki-clad figures lay all over the place, some absolutely still and some moving slightly. We could hear some of the poor chap shouting for help and many a brave deed was done which deserve mention. Every time a man jumped over the parapet to assist the wounded the snipers shot at him, and in some instances Maxim guns were turned on them. During the morning attack Lieut. Edwards and Lieut. Shand, who had gone up to reinforce some of the English regiments in the attack, were killed. Lieut. Edwards held the Military Cross for bravery at Givenchy. The morning attack had proved a failure, and the shelling quietened down-it had been hell while it lasted. Men out in front came dropping on top of us, some wounded, some not. The latter had dropped into all kinds of holes, including a trench that was full of water, and they were in a mess. We heard that the attack had to be made again. We moved out to take up our original position, and the North Lancs., came in. We had just got to the second line of trenches when we had to turn back , and the whole regiment came into the firing line with the pipers. We were told to discard our packs, and then we knew we were going to be in for it. Very soon the artillery started again, the Germans replying strongly, and we began to wonder if it were true the Germans were short of ammunition. A big shell landed right into the parapet, almost wiping out a whole section of No.6 Platoon. The whole regiment fixed bayonets, "A" and "B" companies on the right, and the remainder of "C" and "D" companies on the left, and word passed that we were to wait for our Colonel's command. At the given word the pipers mounted the parapet, immediately followed by the first line, and we gave them a hearty cheer as they disappeared over the parapet. We watched their advance. The Germans kept up an awful fire, and men began to drop, but still the remainder kept on until finally a good many disappeared into the German trench. Such a charge I never before saw in my life. Up went the second line, leaving two platoons (seven and eight) to accompany the C.O., and all headquarters to the trench. Very soon we began to see that all was not well with our men in the German trench, who were getting bombed out. Some who were stripped of their equipment had to make a dash back to safety, only to be shot down by Maxim gun fire. Lieut. Wallace was seen to be evicted from the German trench and then riddled with bullets. No. 7 and 8 Platoons were next, the only ones left besides headquarters, and we were ordered to man the parapet, and just as we were ready to go to a almost certain death, the order "Nobody to advance until further orders" was sent along. Thus my luck was in again. The Germans then started firing on our wounded, and it was heart rending to see some of them killed, who would have stood a chance had it been dark. Some too, who lay between the lines, were also killed by shell fire from both sides. A signaller named Knotty Burns did a brave action. He was seen to advance with the first line that charged, and got into the German trench. He had to come out again and signal to the reinforcements not to come up as it proved to be a death trap. He calmly sat on the bank of their breastworks, and signalled and then ran back for safety, but was seen to fall. The Colonel of the Camerons came along, and our Colonel said to him; "There you are, I have sent all my men over and got their trench, but I have got no supports," I might add that the London Scottish were dying to assist us, but were held back-why, God only knows. We lost some good officers and men in this disasterous affair. All our rankers were either killed or wounded. Capt. Green and Major Robertson wounded, Lieuts. Shand, Edwards, Wanless, Bone and Scott were killed, while Lieut. Grey had his arm blown off and Lieut. Richards wounded. Lieut. Scott, we were told, actually got to their second line of trenches and was killed. Lieut. Haldane and Lieut. Lyall were also wounded.
Two companies of the Camerons charged also on our left, with the same result - no supports. It would take Brigades and Divisions to clear the Germans out of those trenches. Their second line was very strong, and contained more Maxim guns than their first. So even if we had captured their first breastwork the position would have been made untenable for us. What deeds of daring were performed during that charge-it would have one the eyes of people in Scotland good to have seen them. No one faltered and all ran like deer, although the distance was about 500 yards, and such a cheer rang out from us as we saw our men climb their breastwork and over the top they went to their fate, or otherwise we know not. Our Colonel and Major were in a terrible state owing to having no supports. An artillery officer who was observer was very excited (and who also went out to help the wounded in) was shouting out "That's the way to do it," "Good old 42nd." We were relieved by the Coldstreams and our remnants marched down to Hinges, crestfallen for those who had lost their best chums. It would take a whole newspaper to relate all the stories of the different men as they each told their own experiences while on the way to billets. I thought I could hear the scream of shells and the hissing of bullets that night as I lay down in our barn thoroughly tired out. Still we could hear the guns in the distance, all through the night too they kept going.
We awoke after a most refreshing sleep, and cleaned up. Gradually a few of our stragglers came in and we began to realise that it had not been too disasterous for us after all. But still, we had lost more than 500 men and about ten officers. We only heard to-day what the real object had been, and that was to keep the German supports at our part of the line, while the French got through them on the right. I went up to see the old people with whom I had previously been billeted, and glad they were to see me safe. They extended to me their usual kindness, and I had coffee with them.
(To be continued)
BELPER NEWS - 8th October 1915
LANCE-CORPORAL JACKSON'S DIARY
A TREAT TO BE IN THE TRENCHES
SCENE IN A RUINED FRENCH CHURCHYARD
This week's instalment of the daily diary of the war compiled by Lance-Corporal Jackson, 1st Black Watch, form a chatty and enlightening yarn of life at the Front during the late spring.
The document continues as follows:-
The regiment paraded and got a lovely speech from the Commanding Officer, who remarked upon the dash and vigour displayed by all ranks. Part of the regiment who wore "Balmorals" were issued with "Red Hackles," and the whole regiment is to be completed with the same. A small draft of about 50 men joined us.
We left Hinges for Bouevry, halting at Bethune where we had dinner, and underwent a general inspection, having another inspiring speech from General Monro, commanding 1st Army Corps. He laid stress on the capturing of a German trench where a brigade had previously failed, but which we had to abandon failing supports. He also told us that it was the object to keep the Germans in our part of the line away from the French. We arrived at Bouevry in the following afternoon, and noticed a captive balloon which had previously been German, but had been captured by the French, whose tricolour adorned it.
We left Bouevry with the first brigade to take up reserve to the French at Sailly-la-Bourse, arriving at 5.30pm. Three French artillerymen stayed with us, and we exchanged greetings, etc.
Church parades were the order. We were told by the General that two lines of trenches at Richebourg, which had previously been taken and had to be abandoned, had again been captured by the second brigade early this morning and held. On the 18th we heard that about 600 Germans who attempted to surrender were shot down by their own artillery. The Germans brought in a number of our wounded on purpose to be taken prisoners. The second and seventh divisions, we heard, had broken the enemy's lines for two miles an captured most of their trenches by bombing them out, but could not advance on account of the difficulty of obtaining extra ammunition. So they are holding what they have gained.
We left Sailly-la-Bourse at 8pm to relieve the Cameron Highlanders in the trenches at Vermelles. This village, too, has suffered terribly, there being hardly a wall left standing. We passed a number of French "75's" cleverly concealed. After leaving Vermelles we came to the most open and flat country I have yet been in. We went along a communication trench about two miles long, and then came into the firing line. Here were very nice dug-outs made to look as near as possibly like home. They had doors and tables and chairs, and fireplaces cut out with a bit of smallsize drain pipe to act as a chimney, and truly they looked comfortable. The most exquisite were, of course, reserved for the officers. These trenches, etc., were dug by the French, who must have been in occupation quite a long time, owing to the thoroughness with which they had been made and equipped. These are the first trenches we have been in since the ones we left at Givenchy and Quinchy; they are nice and dry, and it is quite a treat to be in them. It is hard to say which I prefer, the breastworks or the trenches. The former are much drier, but offer a splendid work for the guns. On the other hand, the trenches are quite safe, but another little drawback is this: we have noticed the grass in front of us will have to be cut, as we cannot see the German trenches. This, of course, will have to be done at night. While I am writing this the day is hot, and there is a constant buzzing of flies of all descriptions. I have never saw such a collection of "wild animals." There are "blue bottles," spiders, ants, beetles of all colours and descriptions, and "scavengers." I am at a loss to name any more and only know their nationality. Some of them seem to have a "palez-vouz Francais" buzz about them. However this is a digression. Everything is quiet except for an occasional shell from opposite directions, and sometimes a dreamy sniper has a pot-shot at something he imagines he sees. On the 20th Private Duncan was killed in his dug-out by a piece of shell, which really seemed as if it had gone around corners to hit him, the dug-out being built inside the trench nearest the enemy. At 11.30pm I went out with a listening patrol until 4am the following morning. This job is a very nerve-trying one, and requires the utmost vigil and presence of mind.
The usual shelling marked the proceedings of the day, the French on our left towards Lens being extremely busy. Today was a disastrous one for us, considering the usual quietness. A big shell landed at company headquarters and killed Private Riley, Menzies and "Caddy" Summers, the latter having been out from the very beginning. Company Sergeant-Major was also wounded. The men were buried at night. It was rumoured that the French and British in their vigorous offensive had met near Richebourg behind the enemies' line, causing 5,000 Germans to surrender. This "official" piece of news was received with reserve, and the usual equanimity. At night the "breeze" got up, and by two bombs were dropping into our listening post, causing them to retire to our trenches. Rockets were fired and bombs thrown in return, but nothing was seen. It appears as if the bombs had been thrown by slings, as the German trenches are quite six or seven hundred yards from this particular post. After the wind had died down a bit the usual night dispositions continued. All through the night there was heavy fighting on our left with the usual firework display, the German artillery replying strongly. It will take a lot to convince me that the Germans are short of ammunition. Towards Lens too, a terrible artillery duel is proceeding. The sound of the guns in the distance sounds like one continuous peal of thunder. A draft of over forty men joined us on the night of the 22nd.
We had an unusually quiet day, but our aeroplanes were busy. We took particular notice of one on account of its daring occupants. The sky was dotted with bursting shells, amongst which it manouevered with cunning twists and dives. It finally disappeared from our sight over the German lines, but our officers, who watched it with glasses, saw it brought down. They told us that when it was struck it volplaned (sic) for a considerable distance, and then fell like a dead bird into the German lines. It seemed to dishearten us more than if we had lost 100 men. At about 8pm we were relieved by the Camerons, and marched down to Sailly-la-Bourse, where we were billeted in a schoolroom for the night. Next day at about 1pm we left Sailly-la-Bourse and went nearer to the firing line, billeting at Noyelles in reserve to the Camerons. We heard that Italy had declared was on Austria. In this village of Noyelles, I had a look at the church and graveyard, which had been struck by shells. The beautiful stained-glass lay all over the graves, and the gravestones had suffered too. There were newly-dug graves of French soldiers who had been killed in the vicinity, and their caps were placed on their graves. It is surprising how well looked after are the graveyard in France. Floral wreaths, coloured beads and crucifixes adorn the graves, giving them a less sombre appearance than English burial grounds. On the 24th the church spire was subjected to a few shells from the German gunners, who evidently thought it was an observation post. As we were billeted directly behind the church it was rather dangerous for us, and especially when any shells missed their object. At night we went up with the Royal Engineers to construct more dug-outs and put up more barbed wire, finishing work just before daybreak.
(To be continued)
BELPER NEWS - 15th October 1915
LANCE-CORPORAL JACKSON'S DIARY
IN THE HOTTEST SPOT
VIVID DESCRIPTION OF TRENCH WARFARE 35 YARDS FROM THE GERMANS
A further brilliant account of life in the trenches-this time only 35 yards from the Germans, is given in this week's instalment of the Diary of Lance-Corpl. Jackson, which continues as follows:-
We heard from the artillery that a German aeroplane had been brought down, making it quits for the one disabled by their artillery in the 23rd. I mounted guard at night with three men. No shells came our way the whole day.
Nothing of great importance occurred, except that a few big shells passed over us and burst at Sailly-la-Bourse. Towards evening a German aviator tried in vain to get past our lines, but the shelling he received forced him back and he did not appear again.
At about 8pm we relieved the Camerons in the firing line, our billets being taken over by the Scots Guards at Novelles. On the night of the 29th a heavy bombardment by the French on our right was in progress, the Germans again giving an excellent firework display. This time they put up green and red lights which apparently had some meaning. Probably green ones meant reinforcements and red ones more ammunition. It is interesting to see the trials of the German aeroplanes which try to break through our lines only to be driven back time after time by a semi-circle of bursting shrapnel. My memory goes back to the times on the Aisne when day after day the German aeroplanes seemed to have it all their own way and do as they pleased. Now it is the reverse. Our aeroplane guns are mounted on motors, and they are all over the place. There is a very large one in _____ to where we go from the trenches daily for _____. We had a lovely exhibition on Sunday. Our Engineers blew up the German trenches by mines for a distance of about a hundred yards, our men opening "rapid fire" on the gaps. On the night of the 31st we were relieved by the Camerons on our way to Sailly-la-Bourse, where we were billeted for the night. We passed one of our big guns being drawn by a traction engine. We left Sailly-la-Bourse on Tuesday, June 1st, at 9pm, and billeted in Bethune, the scene of our frequent stays during the winter months. During our short stay in Bethune we had to seek shelter at times from the German long-range guns in the cellar. The weather was very hot, and the least effort at drill or route marching caused perspiration to pour from us. The shells that dropped in the town did little material damage and did not even concern the inhabitants, who, instead of seeking shelter in the cellars, crowded outside their doorways to see where the shells were landing. I went out one night and visited a soldiers home with recreation-rooms combined, and what a comfort it was to me after ten months' active service without seeing one. He put a feeling of longing into me for old times, when even on manouevres at Aldershot we used to "grouse" a lot, but we could always look forward to a good bath and a square meal at the different soldiers homes. This particular one in Bethune is not elaborate, as we cannot expect it to be on active service, but games were provided, and a small marquee at the back of the building containing periodicals and the usual last years papers added much to the soldiers' comfort during their "rests" at Bethune. These rests as we term them are not rests in the true sense of the word, but are rather the cause for more grousing on "Tommy's" part. When out of the trenches we stretch our limbs with an "occassional" route march (every day) besides practicing an attack or wood fighting. In fact, many a time on a hot day at the finish of a route march or a very trying parade one can generally hear from the perspiring "Tommy" such remarks as: "If this is active service roll on peace time," or "roll on the trenches." The company officers, especially the conscientious ones, generally get the rub of "Tommy's" remarks. However, it has to be done, and we all know it, and although we all have our bit of "grousing" we do the work and there is an end of it.
We left Bethune at 1.30pm, and relieved the ____ in the trenches at ____, the scene of our charge on the 25th January at the Brickfields, and now famous as the triangle where Michael O'Leary gained the V.C. This is a very hot spot, the German trenches being actually only 35 yards from ours. There is a certain amount of security from shelling in being so close, but the Germans make up for this with rifles, grenades, trench mortars and bombs. One has to keep his eye on the sky on the look-out for these visitors. As a rule our friends opposite are very "fly," and resort to all sorts of dodges to try and get some unfortunate or simple minded man of airs to show their heads or even part of them, while snipers pick them off for their folly. For instance, the first day in our new position we lost nearly all our periscopes no matter how small they were, and if they do not hit them with their first shot we get a shower of sand to console us. All the sand-bags on the top of the parapet are literally in shreds with the constant sniping of the Germans. Now some people would say, "Why don't our soldiers snipe too?" I will endeavour to point out the disadvantage we are at in comparison to the Germans. On one immediate front the "postholes" of the Germans are not merely made with sand-bags, but are thick steel plates with steel covering for the loop-holes, so that when a sniper fires a shot he can immediately withdraw his rifle, and slide the steel covering over the loop-hole. He then goes to another and waits for your rifle appearing, placing you hors de combat while you are firing at the first loop-hole. One lives and learns as the war continues. Again for instance, we spotted their periscope through ours, which had had a narrow escape on the previous day, and was cracked, but which we had now carefully concealed. An old campaigner of my section, named Smith, who wears four medal ribbons, could not resist the temptation to have a shot at it, despite the danger of showing even a finger above the trench. He took a quick aim and fired, the Germans firing at the same time. Luckily, he was not hit, but he spent the next few minutes spitting out sand and getting some out of his eyes. Another trick they resort to at night is that they send up a flare they fire one or two rifle grenades at the same time, so that we cannot hear the report, and thus try to catch us "napping" while the flare is distracting our attention. If anything the report of the flare pistol or whatever they use is louder than the report of the rifle grenade which is fired by a specially prepared blank ammunition. Of course, one must not think we take all this lying down.
In the next instalment of this diary Lance-Corpl. Jackson describes the ways and means of retaliation adopted by the British.
BELPER NEWS - 22nd October 1915
LANCE-CORPORAL JACKSON'S DIARY
THE PLAQUE OF FLIES
Last week Lance-Corpl. Jackson described in his diary the numerous ruses adopted by the Germans in the trenches for taking men by surprise; he now tells of the counter-moves which Tommy puts into effect with good results.
Of course, one must not think that we take all this lying down. We have an expert party of bomb-throwers in each company, of which a Sergeant is in charge. These men are instructed not only in throwing bombs, but in firing rifle grenades, etc., and a separate party for the trench mortars, which is a most deadly weapon in trench warfare. These men disturb the peace of our military opponents opposite us, and then retire to a reserve trench out of the way, and leave us to get the full benefit of Fritz's temper. However good we keep an active and sharp look-out for the return "tickets" from those of the baby-killing propensities. Between our trenches the ground is a veritable [unreadable] of volcanic eruptions on a miniature scale. A little to our right is a crater about 30 to 40 feet deep, the result of an exploded German mine, in which (an Engineer officer told us) a whole platoon of South Wales Borderers had been lost, namely, 40 wounded, 11 killed, and seven miners buried. It was a terrible hole, like a valley, in fact. We also have mines, and one or two of them near us are ready for explosion. Also to the left is another mine of the Boches (or, at least, the hole it left). I don't think many if any casualties occurred with the explosion of that one. A mine guard is furnished by our company in the reserve trenches, and their duty is to listen for anything unusual and report same. This, of course, only occurs at night. For three nights in succession I have bandaged comrades, having been sent for by my company officer on each occasion. One poor fellow named Stevenson, from Dundee, died, leaving a widow and six children. He was shot at night by a sniper. He was ever such a cheery fellow, and his platoon missed him sorely. As regards the health of our men in general it is excellent, but there is one great danger in the way of flies. The trenches swarm with blue-bottles, and although we have a battle royal with them, their number never seems to diminish. Even if we leave our ham uncovered for about half-a-minute, Mr Blue Bottle deposits and invites his chums to do the same. It is heart-breaking at times to see one's boiled ham gone to the dogs for the want of covering, especially when there is nothing else for breakfast. Also when on look out for rifle grenades and bombs, etc., the blue bottles create such a buzzing noise that we cannot hear the whizzing of trench mortars. Again, when looking in the sky, perhaps a sparrow will fly from the German lines and suddenly sweep over our parapet, making us jump, thinking it a bomb. All these little things are very trying on the nerves. We went three nights and days in that trench and on Sunday the 13th, my wife's birthday, we were relieved by "A" company, and occupied dug-outs in the reserve trench.
Our artillery sent some awful big shells across to Fritz's territory during the forenoon. Their "Jack Johnsons" were nowhere in it. Our big guns fairly shook the earth and the effect of the shells must have been terrible, so goodness knows what the effects of one of the "Queen Elizabeth's" shells would be like in the Dardanelles. We at times think we are there, especially when one of the shells bursts in the canal, throwing up an enormous shower of water. These heavy guns were being fired by marines, and at each explosion we could see all shapes and sizes rising into the air. In fact, we heard that the leg of a German fell into the Canadian trench, which was on the other side of the railway. On the morning of the 16th a German aeroplane appeared above our lines, giving ranges to their guns. A French machine pursued it and got above it, chasing it back to the German lines. We were disappointed, as we expected to see this German come down. The result of the visit was a severe shelling of the reserve trenches. One big shell killed our new Company Sergeant-Major, whose name was Scott, and another killed two by concussion and buried five, all of whom were wounded. The day previous we also lost two machine gunners and two signalers from shell fire, a rather sad affair considering that two of them had been out since August. We were told that the Canadians had taken two lines of trenches at Givenchy. At about 5.30pm on the 16th we were relieved by the Northamptons, and we marched back to Bethune for a short rest, having frequent baths and a smoking concert. Tommy's comfort is always seen to by the officers.
On Saturday, June 19th, we left Bethune, and passing through Lebouvriere, arrived at Lapugnoy within a mile of Allenacne, where we had previously billeted, before our charge on May 9th, and billeted there (Lapugnoy). Here we continued our arduous training in route marching, wood fighting, and bayonet fighting. On Tuesday 22nd we had a hot water shower bath near a place called Marlez. These shower baths are attached to every coal mine in France, and I think England would do well to copy. My section is billeted with a very kind old dame and her husband, whom we do not see till late in the evening as he returned from work with his scythe tied to his back. We share our rations with grandma (as we call her) and she in turn gives us strawberries out of her garden. On the 24th we left Lapugnoy and billeted at Thurloville near Burbure on the same night. Many of the regiment went to Burbure on pass to see some old friends with whom we had billeted in February. During our short stay in Thurloville, eight instruments and a bass drum arrived from home, and a small band was organised, to which I was attached as solo cornet player. Needless to say, I felt very strange after the first day's practice, as I had scarcely touched a coronet for about 10 months and my lips were quite soft. However, with constant practice my lips hardened. We had music such as marches, two-steps, one-step, intermezzos and Valses, sent out to us to start with, and we boasted of having a nice little band. We played at the officers' mess and on the march. Although our bandmaster (Capt. Stubbs, R.A.M.C., the regimental doctor) tried to make us do what seemed impossible we somehow managed it. He brought a gramophone and played certain tunes, which after being repeated a few times we were able to play by ear or "busk" it as we used to call it. On Tuesday, 29th June, we left Thurloville and came nearer to Bethune and billeted at Lebouvriere. Each company had sports, one at a time each day, besides playing at mess we played at each company's sports and on Friday night at mess we so impressed the Brigade-Major, who was a guest, that we got our first engagement on the "Continong," and played at the Coldstream Guards' sports at Vandricourt on the following afternoon. The return journey in one of our transport carts was a very nice one. Everything seemed peaceful along those shady lanes, and our of hearing of the smaller artillery guns; only now and again could the boom of the biggest guns be heard, which only brought us back suddenly to the reality of the scene. We went one step further on the Sunday and played the hymns at the Church Service, just five of us, two cornets, two clarinets and euphonium. Chum and I arranged and harmonised the hymns the previous day. This day I had a good feed of cherries, the first I had tasted in France.
[Further instalments of this wonderful narrative will be published in the "Belper News" in due course.]
Unfortunately, in spite of the last paragraph stating the newspapers desire to print more of the diary, no more appeared.
It is my hope Jackson contunued to keep a diary of events and that his family or a museum have his diary. Maybe one day it will be published in full.
Belper News, 21st March 1919
"Corporal Jackson, of the Black Watch, who will be familiar to our readers as the writer of the thrilling diary in the early stages of the war, which was published in these columns, has obtained his discharge after some 15 years' service. He has recently returned to Belper from a village near Cologne, and has brought back a number of interesting German souvenirs."
Edited by Derek Black